Via Mediaite, he’s making a point about inexperience. I’m … just not sure which point. It’s true, Obama had little experience as a federal legislator (and zippo as an executive) before running for president, and look how little he’s accomplished. But is that a function of “inexperience” or a function of other variables, like greater partisan polarization and Obama’s disdain for doing the sort of congressional outreach needed to pass bills? Rubio and Paul will each have served a few years more than Obama did in the Senate by election day 2016. They each also have some cred in working with people across the aisle, Rubio famously with the Gang of Eight and Paul on civil liberties. What is it that the two of them are going to learn by serving another six years in the Senate? Building friendships with colleagues is valuable, but it’s hard for me to believe the lefty base will be willing to tolerate Democrats partnering with President Rubio on major bills in 2025 any more than they would circa 2017. Knocking a candidate for inexperience is effective viscerally — “why should I trust a newbie with the most important job in the world?” — but the specific concerns related to it are rarely articulated. What are they?
Speaking of 2016, though, Ramesh Ponnuru makes a smart point about Rubio’s predicament:
If Marco Rubio is planning to seek the presidency in 2016, he is doing it in an unusual way. In office he has allied with the most conservative elements of the party on almost every issue — but has split with the base on one important issue, immigration. His boosters say that this issue will not doom his campaign, noting that John McCain won the nomination in 2008 even though conservative activists had vocally opposed him on immigration in 2006 and 2007. The difference is that McCain’s overall record was well to the left of Rubio’s, giving him a base of support among moderate Republicans. Rubio could — repeat: could — end up in a no-man’s-land, too far right to win those voters who identify as “moderately conservative” but too heterodox to win those who consider themselves “very conservative.”
If you want a staunch conservative, you go with Paul or Cruz. If you want a centrist with electability cred, you go with Christie. What’s the argument for Rubio? The answer, I’d say, is that he’s a potential compromise candidate. The Christie fans won’t accept Paul or Cruz; the Paul and Cruz fans won’t accept Christie. Rubio’s the not-too-hot-not-too-cold bowl of porridge on whom some centrists and righties will settle as a guy who can potentially unite the two wings of the party in a way that the other three can’t. Walker might play the same role; Ponnuru names him as a guy in the mold of Tim Pawlenty who’s kinda conservative but also kinda establishment and therefore deeply appealing to no one. I think, though, that Republicans might tolerate a nominee like that in 2016 in a way that they didn’t in 2012. The risk of a self-destructive party split between centrists and conservatives in the next cycle seems considerably higher than it did in the past two cycles. If the Christie/Paul bitterness between hawks and doves deepens, you may see Beltway GOPers start looking around for a more conservative establishment champion whose nomination will reduce the risk of people staying home in the general election. That’s Rubio or Walker, provided that they do something to reach out to libertarians before 2016 the same way that Paul will need to do something to reach out to hawks.
And this, needless to say, is the value of Rubio’s immigration play to his chances. He can basically be as conservative as he wants from here on out; he’s already proved to Republican donors that he’s not afraid to take their side against the base on a top-flight policy issue. They can fund him in the assumption that he’ll do that again as president, and the base can vote for him in the assumption that he’s learned his lesson after taking a beating for his amnesty shilling and won’t cross them again. Not too hot, not too cold. Someone’s going to end up being disappointed.