Rubio’s response to this setback has been to regroup and try a different approach. As the media’s infatuation moved on to Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, he began the painstaking work of trying to recast himself as a policy wonk. On March 10 he appeared at Google’s (GOOG) offices in Washington, D.C., to deliver an address loftily titled “Sparking Dynamic Growth in 21st Century America.” “The world around us is changing quickly, and we have waited for far too long to change with it,” Rubio told the audience. “We still have time to build the new American Century. But we do not have forever.”

What distinguished his speech from politicians’ standard paeans to American entrepreneurialism was the specificity of his prescriptions: auctioning off 200 megahertz of government wireless spectrum to corporations; constructing an interstate energy pipeline system; promoting cooperation between the private sector and NASA, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Defense to commercialize public research; thwarting United Nations efforts to regulate the Internet through legislation he’ll soon introduce. “Do I think Republicans have done enough [to promote economic growth]?” he said in an interview afterward. “No. I think we’re lagging—except in comparison to Democrats.”