No matter that he’s only punched up the old script, swung back and forth on immigration policy, and never shepherded major legislation through Congress. What Rubio brings is the star power, adoring fan base, and command of the national media unmatched these days by anyone in Washington outside of the Oval Office. It’s the same aggressive product placement that has made the 41-year-old a top-tier presidential contender just two years after his swearing-in.

Rubio is the GOP’s Barack Obama, minus the intellectual heft intimated by two Ivy League degrees and a law-school faculty post. A Generation X-er with a name that sounds like change. The author of an American Dream-laced memoir that, audiences are frequently reminded, helped pay off his student loans. A former state lawmaker and a Senate short-timer with a thin binder of achievements but perhaps blessed with the greatest rhetorical gifts in politics today. “[Rubio] is the best communicator since Ronald Reagan,” Republican brass Karl Rove gushed recently on Fox News…

Hailed repeatedly by both the Left and the Right for his “courage” in taking up immigration reform, Rubio has little choice because of his status and ambitions. How could the most prominent Hispanic Republican in Congress angle for the presidency but sit out a nationwide debate that looms over his own community and will help determine his party’s survival? After seven of 10 Hispanics rejected Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in November, even Fox News ultraconservative pundit Sean Hannity embraced a pathway to citizenship—weeks before Rubio did. “The train was leaving the station, and he was forced to get on it,” said one GOP member of Congress who declined to speak on the record because he works with Rubio.