Tasty buzz from Eliana Johnson but I wonder how much of it is real and how much is just skullduggery from rival camps talking up the threat from Rubio to try to spook Team Jeb and Team Scott. In fact, maybe Team Jeb and Team Scott are themselves quietly feeding a little of the Rubio hype on the assumption that it does more to hurt the other camp than it does them. Bush’s campaign may figure that Walker stands to lose the most votes to Rubio if the latter man catches on since they’re the two most obvious “checks most of the boxes” candidates in the field. All else being equal, Bush might feel more comfortable battling Rubio than Walker: He can claim executive experience that Rubio doesn’t have, he can use Rubio’s Gang of Eight track record to mitigate his own immigration sins, and he can plausibly claim that most of Florida’s GOP establishment, which knows both men well, are siding with him. Meanwhile, Walker might also feel he has a better shot against Rubio than Jeb. He too has the advantage of executive experience, he too can claim that Rubio is the greater sinner on immigration, and he won’t have quite as formidable a money machine behind his opponent to contend with as he has right now with Jeb. And he may figure that it’s Jeb, not himself, who’ll lose the most votes if Rubio catches on. They’re both Floridians, both pro-immigration, both potentially with special appeal to Latinos. If Rubio plucks 10 percent from Jeb’s base, it could be enough for Walker to lead decisively in a three-man race.
Or maybe there’s no strategy here. Maybe the buzz is real.
Jeb Bush’s announcement in December launched both a fundraising juggernaut and an aggressive hiring spree, and Scott Walker’s speech in Iowa the following month lifted Walker to the top of national polls. But a little more than a month later, says the operative, “The Jeb boom is over and people are having second thoughts about Walker.”…
Bush’s announcement left many conservatives searching for an alternative to the establishment candidate, and Walker has at times looked like he could fill that space. But he has stumbled a couple of times before the press and displayed some shakiness on policy issues…
“Senator Rubio is going to be a formidable candidate in 2016, should he decide to run,” says Lanhee Chen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution who served as policy director for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. “He’s spent the last several years developing thoughtful, conservative policy proposals, and he will be a dynamic messenger who can tell the story of how his ideas will contribute to upward mobility, opportunity, and security for all Americans.”…
As conservatives search for an alternative to the establishment candidate, the question right now is whether Rubio can actually break out. Says the GOP policy adviser, “If he never gets escape velocity, he’ll linger around 7 or 8 percent” in the polls. Then again, he says, Rubio “has the greatest potential to make noise in this race.”
Another big name in RomneyWorld talking up Rubio, huh? Spencer Zwick, Romney’s right-hand man, also had nothing but good things to say about him a few weeks ago. Is the Romney money machine swinging behind the center-right guy from Florida whom Mitt actually likes? If so, Jeb’s fundraising advantage won’t be as big as everyone thinks and certainly won’t be enough to muscle Rubio out of the race early. Meanwhile, although Rubio fee-vah hasn’t afflicted GOP voters yet — he hasn’t topped six percent in a national GOP primary poll this year, which actually puts him behind, um, Chris Christie — he may be the guy with the most room to grow. From this week’s WSJ/NBC poll:
Here’s a tough question for you if you happen to be a Republican with $500 million in the bank who cares more about nominating an establishmentarian than any particular establishmentarian. At this point, is it in your interest to promote Rubio and hope he becomes competitive with Bush and Walker? On the one hand, the more divided the center-right vote is, the easier it’ll be for a right-winger like Rand Paul to steal a win in Iowa or New Hampshire. You’re taking a risk by trying to expand your own half of the field. On the other hand, Paul seems less of a threat to win the nomination now than he was 18 months ago; even if he won an early state, the balance of center-right voters would likely swing against him and behind one of the establishment candidates in a “Stop Rand” push. That being so, maybe you should be trying to boost as many viable center-right candidates as you can right now. Diversify your electoral portfolio. Give Rubio a foothold just in case both Bush and Walker underwhelm. Because the truth is, Jeb’s polling is conspicuously weak. Walker has been disappointing in his willingness to pander shamelessly on issues like ethanol and immigration, an unexpected move for a guy who’s selling himself as the man of unshakable principle who wouldn’t bend under tremendous pressure from labor. And lord knows, if Bush and Walker struggle, it ain’t gonna be Chris Christie who rescues the center from Paul and Cruz.
So maybe that explains the buzz. Although it seems likely that Rubio will run for president rather than senate, it’s not a sure thing yet. And if he shocks everyone by passing on the race, the donor class may be left holding a weaker presidential hand than they expected. Rubio is their insurance policy.
Update: A friend e-mails:
Rubio buzz is real, and it’s not for any of the too-complicated reasons you list — it’s because he’s impressive, and a lot of people who saw him at the Koch thing and at CPAC realized, correctly, that he’s an ideal contrast with Hillary. Young, fresh, idealistic, inspirational — against the dull, cautious, old, astoundingly boring Hillary. A young Spanish-speaking son of immigrants talking about his family’s debt to America versus Hillary, her health problems and Saudi money. That’s a matchup we win.