The dream of "Romney 2016" is alive and well, thanks to ... Marco Rubio?

A few days old, but it’s so rare that I’m right that I need to showcase it. A month ago I argued that Rubio’s best/only shot to gain a foothold among the establishment against Jeb was to (a) show that he’s the strongest candidate in the field among Latinos and (b) become the official or unofficial favored candidate of Mitt Romney. Romney’s the only man in America who can deliver a donor bankroll to rival Jeb’s. And fortuitously for Rubio, Mitt and his team have issues with Bush, Walker, and Chris Christie, the only real rivals to Rubio for the Romney benediction.

So now it’s happening. I like to joke that, between his hawkishness and his support for amnesty, Rubio is a McCain for our times. Now that he’s angling to become the heir to Mitt Romney, it means he’s a sort of hybrid of the last two GOP nominees. How excited are you, conservatives?

Since Romney announced in January that he would not run for the White House again, he and Rubio have had at least two lengthy phone calls in which Romney encouraged and mentored the 43-year-old Florida senator about the political landscape, according to a Romney associate…

Rubio has signed up two prominent former Romney officials in recent weeks. Rich Beeson, Romney’s 2012 national political director, has been tapped as Rubio’s likely deputy campaign manager, while Jim Merrill, Romney’s longtime New Hampshire strategist, is on board to play the same role for Rubio…

Rubio’s courtship has been particularly intense with Spencer Zwick, who served as national finance chairman of Romney’s $1 billion campaign and is seen as the keeper of the Romney flame. Zwick said in an interview that the senator solicits advice from him regularly in phone calls, e-mails and text messages…

On Tuesday, Rubio met at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington for an hour with Lanhee Chen, Romney’s former policy director, who remains an adviser and friend. Chen said he was impressed by Rubio’s preparation for the meeting, which focused on foreign and domestic policy, as well as his depth on the issues.

There’s a chicken-and-egg question to the Rubio/Romney courtship. Does Mitt endorse Marco first, which would instantly give uncommitted members of the GOP donor class something to think about in terms of whom to commit to? Or does Marco first need to reach some benchmark or critical mass of credibility, whether in the polls or in terms of the money’s he raised, before Mitt endorses him? The last thing Romney wants to do is gamble his kingmaker potential on Rubio and then watch Rubio flame out of the primaries early. Rubio needs to show he’s a legit shot for the nomination in all likelihood before Romney will take the plunge — except that nothing would make him a legit shot for the nomination as much as Romney taking the plunge. Obviously Romney’s not going to do anything until after a bunch of debates have been held, but what happens if Rubio performs well at those (as everyone expects he will) and he’s still 15 points behind Jeb come, say, October? Will Romney roll the dice on him then or conclude that Rubio, having failed to catch Jeb at that point, remains too much of a longshot?

Eh, doesn’t matter. Given the Democrats’ advantage in the electoral college, we’re going down next November anyway. Exit question: We’ve been assured by Romney fans in the past that Mitt’s a true blue border hawk, a guy who believed in “self-deportation” on the merits, not just as a really obvious pander to conservatives who were skeptical of him. How do we reconcile that with the fact that Romney’s now high on the one GOP candidate who did more than any other to try to make amnesty happen in Congress?

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