Play it with me. No major party has ever nominated a figure like Trump or Carson, and I don’t believe that the 2016 G.O.P. will be the first. Rand Paul’s libertarian moment came and went, Carly Fiorina seems like she’s running for a cabinet slot, John Kasich is too moderate (and ornery about it), Chris Christie has never recovered from the traffic cones. Scott Walker and Rick Perry are gone. Ted Cruz has the base’s love, but far too many leading party actors hate him. Bobby Jindal and Mike Huckabee are boxed out by Carson and Cruz; Rick Santorum, Lindsey Graham and George Pataki are boxed out by voter indifference.
That leaves Jeb! and Marco Rubio. But Jeb’s campaign has been one long flail. His favorable ratings are terrible, he and Trump topped a recent poll of Iowans that asked which candidate should drop out expeditiously, and as a Republican consultant pointed out for National Review this week, his candidacy looks like a pure creation of the super-rich: He has raised only three times as much from small-dollar donors as Lawrence Lessig, the good-government academic running a quixotic campaign against Hillary Clinton.
So that leaves Rubio. And unlike all the rest, it’s surpassingly easy to imagine the Florida senator as the nominee. He sits close to the party’s center ideologically, and his favorable ratings with Republicans are consistently strong. He’s an effective debater with a great personal story and an appealing style, and a more impressive policy portfolio than most of his rivals. He scares Democrats in the general election, and strikes the most politically-useful contrasts with She Who Has Always Been Inevitable. His past support for comprehensive immigration reform is a major liability, but Rubio has shown a lot more finesse on that issue than has Jeb, and one liability isn’t usually enough to doom a candidate who otherwise looks like a winner.