Wednesday, February 03, 2016


I believe Marco Rubio would be a very strong general-election candidate, so I eagerly turned to David Frum's Atlantic post "Marco Rubio's Difficult Path to the Nomination," in the hope that Frum would point out obstacles in Rubio's way that I haven't spotted. Color me unpersuaded:
First, Rubio must perform strongly in New Hampshire next week. Even more importantly, all the other candidates you used to like must perform poorly. If, hypothetically, John Kasich or Chris Christie rather than Marco Rubio finishes a strong second to Donald Trump, Rubio’s future as the Great Establishment Hope would suddenly look a lot less hopeful.
Well, that might happen -- moderate and pro-Estalishment voters in New Hampshire might choose the candidate they like best, Kasich or Christie or, God help us, Jeb, rather than the other guy they like who just so happens to be getting all the buzz as they're preparing to vote. New Hampshirites do have a reputation for -- what's the cliche? -- flinty independence. But this, from a Concord Monitor story, makes more sense:
Some say Rubio’s third-place caucus finish could give him a boost among moderate Republican voters here who don’t want Trump or Cruz, and see the Florida senator as the party’s best chance to defeat them.

Those voters “have an incentive to pick the strongest horse,” said Dartmouth College professor of government Brendan Nyhan. “To the extent Rubio can peel people off of those other candidates, it could produce a swing in his traction."
Reputation aside, New Hampshirites tend to go with safe choices -- Romney, McCain, Bush. So what else does David Frum have?
Then, in the days after New Hampshire votes, all the other candidates you used to like must rapidly withdraw gracefully from the field. No more calling Rubio “the boy in the bubble!” Jeb Bush’s people, in particular must somehow stifle their resentment and rage, and refrain from spending their remaining $50 million of super-PAC funds to remind South Carolina voters of Rubio’s past (and likely future) support for higher levels of immigration.
Obviously, Establishment candidates who finish strong in New Hampshire will want to stay in the race, even if most (cough Kasich cough) don't have much appeal in any other state. But I think most of these folks will drop out if they do poorly in New Hampshire. The only one who might be insane enough to stay in the race after a New Hampshire flop would be Jeb, ostensibly because he'll still have the Florida primary to look forward to, but really because he's run his entire race as if his parents are going to beat the crap out of him if he drops out.

But so what? Outside New Hampshire, everyone in the GOP hates Jeb. Being attacked by Jeb probably helps Rubio.

What else, David?
Next, in a year when the Republican base is seething against Republican leadership, you must find some way to convince those voters that the tens of millions in campaign donations and super-PAC dollars about to flow to Rubio don’t mark him out as the new “establishment man,” even though, of course, it’s true.
The "anti-Establishment" guy who won Iowa is awash in billionaire super PAC cash. His wife works for Goldman Sachs. Nobody in the GOP electorate cares.

What else?
You must also somehow persuade Donald Trump to exit the race quietly, rather than smash all the scenery on his way off the stage. Every time he attacks Rubio (and you!) for planning to leave Obamacare beneficiaries dying in the streets, he’s providing material for devastating Hillary Clinton attack ads in the fall. Somebody has to cajole and coax Trump into feeling that the real winners are those who know when to quit.
See, I think having Trump remain in the race helps rather than hurts Rubio. If we get down to a three-man race, Trump and Cruz will be splitting the anti-Establishment vote while Rubio scoops up the rest. And even if you assume that Trump would attack Rubio as a heartless opponent of universal health care (why would he say that?), that won't hurt in the fall. People want health care, but Obamacare is unloved. There's still no penalty for running against it except in deep-blue America.

Oh, and as for Trump himself, he really might be melting like the Wicked Witch of the West after a water splash. This just went up on Twitter:

Because I want the GOP nominee to be an embodiment of the party's rage, I hope Cruz and not Rubio is the beneficiary of any Trump slippage. But I won't be surprised if the voters, after falling in love with Trump, are falling in line for Rubio.

And finally, David?
Finally, you’re going to need a plan for Rubio himself. He’s convinced you that he’s a candidate of deep foreign-policy wisdom. That self-presentation may be tough to sustain in a general-election race against Hillary Clinton, especially when she pounds home the message that a vote for Rubio is a vote for more wars in the Middle East and millions of health-insurance cancellations at home. What’s he going to say in reply? Personal biography only goes so far in presidential politics, otherwise Bob Dole and John McCain would have completed two terms each.
Oh, please. This is America. Dole and McCain didn't lose because Americans don't vote based on biography -- they lost because they were old and familiar and dour, and we like new and fresh and upbeat, or at least new to us.

Rubio won't need to talk policy in detail -- he'll just do that tremulous high-school-valedictorian thing he does with his voice and say ISIS is an "existential threat," then say, "For eight years, this president has refused to protect America, but when I am president, I will!" And only Democratic voters care about insurance cancellations -- poor and struggling whites assume it's because the non-whites get all the good benefits, so they blame Democrats.

I'm not saying that all of this will happen. But if Rubio gets a few breaks, it's going to be a lot easier for him to win than Frum believes.


AllieG said...

Steve, the evidence for your faith in Rubio as a general election candidate that I can see are highly premature general election polls, the same polls that show Sanders is about 5-10 points stronger a candidate than Clinton. Do you believe that as well? Or do you accept it's because Sanders is lesser known, and so serves as an empty vessel of voter aspirations, kind of like Rubio.

Victor said...

I, for on, hope that Jeb (...) stays for a while.

Let him spend the rest of Right to R(A)ise(Cash)'s money, on digging up more dirt on Marco.

Steve M. said...

I think Rubio is a strong candidate because Americans rarely give the same party three straight presidential terms, because he has a butter-wouldn't-melt-in-his-mouth frattish-young-dad demeanor that can sell Koch and neocon policies as moderate (a la W in 2000), and because the "liberal media" hates Hillary the way it hated Gore, which creates a craving for a bro who can beat someone perceived as a buzzkilling prig. Rubio's ideal for that.

Feud Turgidson said...

Rubio's getting paunchier by the minute, and his bald patches are growing at the rate of tumors. I've already pointed elsehere to recent pictures of him that, for the first time in his meteoric political career, side photos of him show him taking on the short fat stubby pug-nosed bloatiness that typifies members of the Congressional Freedumber Caucus. That famous water bottle incident we laugh about actually has organic roots: he's constantly prone to beads of sweat breaking out at his hairline and forming rivelets as they stream down his face. He not only goes to the bottle a lot - he's got more seamless at it, but watch his speeches: he's just found more subtle ways to work it in into his speaking rhythm - and also the hankie, which to his credit he saw coming as another potential icon so he's also worked to blend that in with his timing. He's not quick on his feet; he actually has trouble forming sentences whenever he's found himself having to respond to questions where he can't easily resort to talking points.

It's not yet clear whether this aging process, under which Rubio is transforming very rapidly, almost like he's moulting, from a boyish-looking rising star into a balding, sweaty, glistening doughy middle-aged assistant utilities councilman, will continue apace and so rapidly he turns into an hisptanic Elmer Fudd by the time the GOP gets to Cleveland.

This analysis is all so catty and superficial, but then so is he. Yet I agree that, for reasons are apparently denied to my mammalian brain, and despite his very rapidly having morphed into the single most hawkish presidential candidate for president since either of the Duncan Hunters, he's managed to position himself as the GOP's establishment favorite, and those old boys have seen enough of Cruz to know that dog can't hunt.

Unknown said...

Next you'll be telling us the Jeb! is playing 11th dimensional chess and just toying with everyone before he strikes. Rubio is a putz and he will never be president. Rubio comes off as someone you'd cut in front of in a line.

Dark Avenger said...

I think if he were to get the nomination, it would be log vs. buzz saw with either Hillary or Sanders in the debates. To think he'll get past them unscathed is like believing in fairy tales or the Easter Bunny.

Steve M. said...

Then I'm a four-year-old. I believe in this particular fairy tale. Not unscathed, but certainly quite electable.

Lit3Bolt said...

Rubio brings back shades of 2000 for me too. George W. Bush was/is dopey, a draft-dodging dry drunk who was not particularly successful at anything, yet was surrounded by good political operatives, plenty of cash and access, and had a sympathetic media cheering him on.

Dubya came off dopey. That was spun as homesy. Dubya came off as not bright or quick-witted because of flubs and mumbles. The press cooed in adoration. Dubya didn't seem to know much about anything nor could come up with a good reason why he was running for President, but neither could Gore so it didn't matter.

Rubio could vomit on the debate stage, and it wouldn't matter and the DC press would rush to his defense. It doesn't matter that his face is punchable. Unless his face is more punchable than Hillary or Bernie's for your Dear Old Parents and Grandparents, Rubio will be your next President.