Some people are grumbling about this in Headlines but I don’t know what you want the guy to say. He’s not going to tell Rove and his giant donor base to kiss his ass, no matter how much you wish he would; if he ends up running in 2016, he’ll need those people to win. I doubt even Rand Paul would go much further than Rubio in criticizing Rove for the same reason. In case there really is a GOP civil war between the establishment and tea party, any prospective nominee will be forced to ingratiate himself with both, especially since more centrist Republican groups are coming online every day. That’s why Paul’s been quick to forgive and forget the fact that Mitch McConnell endorsed his primary opponent in 2010. (Paul’s actually got a tougher job than Rubio insofar as he needs to appeal to mainstream conservatives, tea partiers, and the Ron Paul supporters who view him as maybe not quite enough of a chip off the ol’ anti-establishment block.) So here’s Rubio demonstrating a lesson from day one of Politics 101: Don’t alienate anyone unless you’re forced to, especially if the people you’re alienating can command hundreds of millions of dollars in political fundraising. He’s also demonstrating a lesson from day two of Politics 101: Try to say as little as possible when cornered with a thorny question. This answer goes on for two minutes but all it boils down to, really, is (1) both sides have their virtues and (2) let’s see what happens. Remember, just as it was with Captain Hopenchange at the 2004 convention, inclusiveness is key to Rubio’s brand. (E.g., “Despite our differences, I know that both Republicans and Democrats love America.”) If you want a Republican who’ll play a bit rougher, you’re really more of a Christie voter. Just understand that it’s usually other Republicans with whom he’ll be playing rough.
Exit question: Will donations from Rove’s group end up backfiring on establishment candidates? Nate Silver makes the case that, yep, it’s quite possible. Simply put, while establishment Republicans reliably outraise tea-party challengers, they don’t reliably defeat them. Those challengers get a lot of earned media from Fox News and conservative talk radio and they’re bound to get a lot more if/when the Rove imprimatur on a candidate makes him/her a target of grassroots contempt. Click the image to watch.