Open thread: Rubio to formally announce presidential candidacy at 6 p.m. ET

Should be live on all the cable news nets just in time for dinner on the east coast. Here’s some news to whet your appetite for Rubiomania:

When I think “canny handling of the media,” I think “Mitt Romney.” But seriously, just to back up my point earlier about Rubio being a smart tactician, even a hire as small as this has sound logic behind it. The more Romney veterans Rubio brings in, the more Romney money Rubio will probably bring in: Wealthy Republicans who may not know much about him or are wary of his youth will feel reassured to see him hiring people trusted by Mitt, a man trusted by the establishment itself. If Rubio comes to be seen unofficially as Team Mitt’s candidate, it’ll make him much more competitive financially with that other guy from Florida. Which is funny, because as far as the donor class is concerned, Rubio’s campaign slogan might as well be “Jeb without the ‘Bush.'” Marco Rubio — he’s Mitt and Jeb all rolled into one!

The more I think about it, the more I think his biggest asset is that he’s the safest pick among the top tier of candidate — by far. No one knows if Jeb can shed his “Bush baggage.” No one knows if Walker can attain the sort of fluency Rubio already has on foreign policy, or if his ham-handed early pandering on immigration will lead to other opportunistic policy reversals. No one knows if Rand Paul can prevent Democrats from painting him as a crank, and no one knows how many Republican hawks will stay home in protest if he’s the nominee. No one knows if Ted Cruz can appeal to swing voters in a national election, even if he figures out a path to the GOP nomination. Rubio, though, seems like a low-risk choice on almost every front. He banked some centrist cred with his immigration bill and his new tax-reform plan; he’s got his own trailblazing racial narrative; he can (probably) deliver a major swing state; he’ll be excellent on the stump, and far, far, far better than Hillary Clinton. There won’t be any major gaffes a la Romney and the 47 percent, there won’t be any weird stunts like McCain suspending his campaign over the financial crisis. He’ll be solid. Even his most obvious liability, his youth, could turn out to be an asset against Clinton, a candidate nearly 25 years older. The CW is that voters won’t gamble on another fortysomething president after Obama, preferring an elder statesman like Hillary, but even if the race begins with people skeptical of a younger candidate, it may not end that way. The fear with electing a young president is that he doesn’t know the issues; Rubio palpably does and will have many chances to prove it. Besides, how can Hillary attack him for his age? Rubio will be 45 on election day 2016. Bill Clinton’s age when he was elected to his first term: 46.

I tend to agree with Nate Cohn. Rubio’s biggest problem isn’t a problem with him. His problem is simply that Jeb may be an obstacle too high to clear.

Mr. Rubio is competing for many of the same donors and operatives as Mr. Bush. Both not only come from the same state but also from similar ideological wings of the party. Despite the initial insurgent bid against Charlie Crist that made him a Tea Party hero, Mr. Rubio has always been an establishment-oriented candidate. The reporting about Mr. Rubio’s time in Washington suggests that he has followed an elite-driven path, following all the rules, seeking the guidance of the conservative intelligentsia, and trying to lead the party toward a compromise on immigration reform — the preferred means of the establishment-business wing of the party to expand the party’s general election appeal.

Mr. Bush’s pre-emptive bid to build elite support has denied Mr. Rubio the opportunity to consolidate the center-right wing of the party. Perhaps this wouldn’t be a big problem if Mr. Rubio were a favorite of the conservatives skeptical of Mr. Bush’s candidacy, but the field is full of candidates who are equally good or better fits for many conservative voters.

He can’t run to the right because of Cruz and Paul, but then Rubio gave up running as a doctrinaire conservative the day he joined the Gang of Eight in 2013. The one thing he didn’t anticipate, I think, was that Jeb would jump in and block his path to the middle too. If Bush had stayed out, Rubio would be golden right now — probably the establishment’s favorite son once Chris Christie ran into trouble. The nomination likely would have ended up as a two-man race between him and Walker, with a Republican ticket composed of the two of them in whichever order. Once Jeb decided to run, Rubio lost a chunk of campaign infrastructure he was counting on in Florida and lots and lots and lots of potential contributions. The fact that he decided to run anyway shows you how much confidence he has in his own campaign skills vis-a-vis Bush. Even at a major fundraising advantage, even with no obvious path in a crowded field, he thinks eight months on the trail will convince center-right voters that he’s the guy more so than Jeb. The question is, per Cohn, why haven’t they been convinced already? Rubio’s a well known pol thanks to Fox News, almost certainly more familiar to conservatives nationally than Scott Walker is. It’s Walker who’s in double digits, though, while Rubio struggles along at around five percent. How come?

We’ll see if he gets a bounce from today’s announcement. The speech should be good, albeit predictable.