Calm before the storm: "Credentials caucus" underway for GOP's 2016 prospects

For some of the Republicans planning a path to the nomination, the learning process is imperative. With the exception of former Florida governor Jeb Bush — who said Sunday that he will decide by the end of this year whether he will run — the GOP contenders are policy novices compared with the leading Democratic prospects, former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vice President Biden.

The consultations, which are happening out of public view, were confirmed in interviews with dozens of Republican officials, policy advisers and political aides.

In this early stage, Rubio seems furthest along, crystallizing his views with a series of speeches, including one critical of “isolationists” and another touting his ideas on college affordability. His chief of staff, Cesar Conda, and deputy chief of staff, Sally Canfield, have long policy backgrounds, as does Jamie Fly, a fierce critic of President Obama’s foreign policy who was hired by Rubio last year.

Rubio routinely invites policy experts to his office for conversations and his staff regularly sends articles and research papers to a drop box titled “upward mobility” on his computer.

“If I’m just going to come here and have talking points, the experience isn’t rewarding,” Rubio said in an interview. “I really believe Republicans have to start to be more than the opposition and think about how best to talk about our alternatives.”