For me, at least, the promise of Rubio seldom corresponds with the reality. Whenever I listen to him these days, all I hear is Mitt Romney. If he’s really imbued with all these formidable political skills, why do so many of his appearances feel stilted? If he’s one of fresh faces of a new GOP, why are his speeches crammed with platitudes that may have packed a serious punch in 1984? It’s not that he’s substantively wrong (though he offers so little in that regard), it’s not that he’s off-putting, it’s that he never really generates the sort of excitement or displays the sort of political acumen his reputation might have you believe he can, should or will.
Agree with him or not, Rubio’s time with the Gang of Eight featured some impressive moments. He didn’t shy away from critics. He went on talk radio and passionately argued his case. The base was mad, but likely forgive him. What should be more concerning, though, is the political naiveté he displayed allowing Democrats to use the issue – and him – to bludgeon the GOP. Rubio, in the end, was forced to step away from the entire mess, which makes it a failure on both a political and policy level.
And Rubio’s subsequent pandering was his way of letting everyone know he was “severely” conservative…
Perhaps an issue will arise that Rubio can grab, but right now he’s a bit out of step with his own party’s evolution. It was amusing to see Rubio following Mike Lee and others, tepidly aiming his guns at corporate cronyism this week — “big companies may not like big government, but they can afford to deal with it.” The issue seemed manufactured.
“I’ve been told that people are enthusiastic about the prospects of a Rubio candidacy,” says Harsanyi. “I’ve just yet to meet one these people in real life.” Oof. It’s true, Romney and Rubio are both overly platitudinous in their speeches, even by normal political standards. And they both have/had a major conservative heresy to negotiate on their way to the nomination. I’d go a step further and say that they’re also similar in their willingness to reinvent themselves as political circumstances require. Romney ran as a social con in 2008 and went nowhere; four years and one Great Recession later, he came back as a centrist technocrat who was focused on the economy. Rubio ran as a de facto tea-party conservative in 2010, a sort of proto-Ted Cruz; four years later, he’s got a major immigration bill in the Senate under his belt and, with Jeb Bush wavering and Chris Christie damaged, is poised to become the establishment champion in 2016. Sneer at him all you want, but Romney’s reinvention was good enough to get him the nomination. Rubio’s no dummy.
Gotta take issue with Harsanyi, then, on his claim that Rubio’s advance and retreat on amnesty failed both policy-wise and politically. How so, exactly? It passed the Senate and Boehner’s now under tremendous pressure to pass reform of his own in the House. If they end up doing something and eventually get together with Reid on comprehensive reform, Rubio will happily take credit for his role in the process during the general election if he’s nominated. I don’t think that’ll help him much with Latino voters but it might help him with centrists generally in convincing them that he’s centrist too. Also, how is the Gang of Eight bill some major failure for Rubio given his current position in the race? It was instrumental in showing the donor class that he wasn’t, in fact, another Cruz; on the contrary, he’s a guy who was willing to take withering fire from the right for months to try to make the establishment’s amnesty dreams come true. Granted, it alienated some conservatives, but that’ll fade as GOP irritation at the Clintons starts building again to 90s-era levels. As disappointed as I am in him for joining the Gang of Eight, I think it was a savvy play politically. As those business donations roll in, he’ll be crying all the way to the bank.
Also, is it true that Rubio never generates excitement anymore when he’s speaking? He did okay with that stemwinder about Venezuela a few months ago. He’s given speeches on abortion, in particular, that have been widely acclaimed on the right. It’s not that he can’t generate excitement, I think he’s simply been overshadowed by rivals who’ve played bigger roles politically over the last year. No one dishes red meat like Ted Cruz; no one’s as unpredictable as Rand Paul; no one’s as … Christie-ish as Chris Christie. They’re all dynamic in different ways. Rubio’s more static — usually — but that’s not the worst thing for him to be given his new role in the race. He’s the “safe” choice compared to all the rest. People will tolerate a little stasis from the safe choice. Right, Mitt?