What pundits and reporters really mean when they call Rubio the “frontrunner” is simply that he is the best candidate in the race: the savviest politician, the most impressive performer. Rubio is the Republican who makes the most sense to the political press — and for a candidate like him that could become a problem.
Chris Christie’s coziness in the Morning Joe greenroom compounded conservatives post-2012 wariness of him, and when scandal struck his administration, many in the online right were content to watch him get devoured by the “liberal media” he so adored. Jon Huntsman’s 2012 candidacy — already marred by organizational failings and a transparent disdain for the Tea Party — was further hampered by his status as a darling of the media elite (and the perception that he enjoyed posing for that splashy Vogue spread a tad too much).
Both Christie and Huntsman either were or signaled to voters they were much less conservative than Rubio, but the more a candidate is doted on by the news media, the more he opens himself up to suspicion from primary voters — and attacks from opportunistic rivals.
This is a lesson Rubio learned once before during the immigration fight of 2013.