While some conservatives might see comparing Marco Rubio to Barack Obama as an insult, they shouldn’t. Conservatives could do quite a bit worse than nominating a likable candidate with a floor of support in the high forties who won two presidential elections with over 50 percent of the vote, even one that is short on accomplishments.
And, for Republicans, that is really the central choice in the 2016 primary race. Does the party go with executive experience over charisma in the effort to create the greatest contrast with Barack Obama, or do they back youth, vitality, and political acumen in order to find a foil for Hillary Clinton? There are good arguments for both sides of this debate.
No, Barack Obama isn’t on the ballot in 2016, but Americans have a history of electing presidents who present the strongest contrast with the outgoing chief executive. Having been stung by six years of leadership from an inexperienced, first-term U.S. Senator, many feel that the party should support a candidate with executive experience. But executive experience is only an asset if the candidate can get elected, and undervaluing the art of politics has not helped Republicans in the past.
Republican primary voters will wrestle with these hard questions over the next several months before coming to a consensus view on the figure best suited to take on Hillary Clinton. While the majority of the party’s primary voters have not yet tuned in to the race, some conservatives are beginning to engage in that internal dialogue.
Romney was a good man & businessman, McCain a great warrior. Maybe it's time to try someone who's good at politics.
— Dan McLaughlin (@baseballcrank) April 13, 2015
And if Marco Rubio is the right’s Barack Obama – youthful, inexperienced, short on accomplishments, but a uniquely talented politician, the GOP might find that a good problem to have. A Politico analysis of Rubio’s background suggests that he is a unique political virtuoso, but he will also endure many of the same criticisms that Republicans made of the president during his 2008 run.
In fact, Rubio’s detractors have often suggested that he’s more concerned about the next job than getting stuff done in his current job. His autobiography is virtually devoid of substantive accomplishments beyond a local tree-planting project. In unguarded moments, Rubio’s allies describe him not so much as the right messenger with the right message for the right moment, but as an awesome messenger with an awesome message who could be plugged into any moment — and this one will do fine. Any Republican nominee is likely to argue for less government, less regulation, less social spending, lower taxes, and a more belligerent foreign policy. Rubio just happens to be exceptionally adept at making those arguments — in two languages.
For Republicans who watched Rubio’s speech announcing his presidential bid, there were reports that many of those who are skeptical of the freshman Florida senator’s suitability for the Oval Office were enthralled.
If Rubio can overcome conservatives’ skepticism after his aborted attempt to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill, perhaps he is as gifted a politician as many say he is. If the right can find a figure for whom they want to vote, that they are inspired by, that they do not have to cast a ballot for through gritted teeth, conservatives would likely find a winning national coalition of voters is with them. Maybe Rubio is that figure…