The field of Republicans contending for their presidential nomination does not present grandeur.; in truth, it's a pretty weak roster. Take a look at the top names:
--Jeb Bush (actually John Ellis, btw): lots of money, lots of friends, fading fast. His death knell was the inability to answer the most obvious question a three year old could have predicted. And conservatives now think poorly of his brother for spending too much (doughnut hole anyone?), and for the Iraq nation building fiasco. The dream of another Bush presidency is over.
--Scott Walker: the last guy who claimed that running a small state prepared him for the White House was Jimmy Carter; Walker's experience at solving big domestic problems is too limited. And when it comes to foreign policy, he's still in school in the remedial section. This, in a year when Republicans are concentrating on foreign policy debates because the economy is doing so well. Besides, he's got the raw charisma of a lumberjack.
--Rand Paul: the left loves him; he's their kind of conservative. That is, till they find out that his libertarian views don't only cut against the NSA, but insist that he dismantle the welfare state. Anybody care to repeal the Americans With Disabilities Act, a move he has advocated? Would you trust social security to his presidency?
--Chris Christie: never had a chance, even before Bridgegate. Let's see, the Republican base, which he needs to win to get the nomination, is rural, Southern, and Christian conservative. Christie, with his New York/New Jersey swagger and in your face style was going to be about as appealing to them as the boll weevil was to their forefathers a century ago.
--Ted Cruz: the Heath Ledger of politics. Guaranteed to scare the daylights out of you but also give a great show. In the end he'll lose to Batman.
--Mike Huckabee: do we really want a president who shilled for diet supplements?
--Bobby Jindahl: actually majored n biology at Brown as an undergraduate; no dummy. Then decided to join the "stupid party" (his term) because he thought it would help him become president. Such a bright idea.
I'm not even mentioning folks like Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina. Donald Trump may actually make the top 10 and get a coveted debate slot because of name recognition. Not a major league contender in sight.
And then there's Marco Rubio. He starts with a life story that could inspire across generations. This is the stuff we read about when we learned the lines from Emma Lazarus' poem. Youth could respond to the idealism this denotes, while older folks--children of immigrants--may relate to a reenactment of their parents and grandparents' struggles. Then there's that obvious fact that he's young. Faced with a replay of the Clinton-Bush fight, the public sighed, "Is that all there is?". Rubio replaces an old cast with fresh blood.
And he's Hispanic. That counts for a lot. Democrats say he may not even win a majority of Hispanic votes; maybe not, but he doesn't have to. In 2004 George W. Bush got 44%, and that was enough to help him rack up a big win nationally. Does anyone believe Rubio will not improve on Mitt Romney's 27%? Democrats are even claiming that because he's of Cuban descent, Rubio will have little impact on other Latin groups such as Mexican-Americans. At one time, in some places that was true; in New York City in the seventies, when I was a lad, Puerto-Ricans and Cubans did not get along, part of a long turf war. But this analysis ignores the larger picture. In the bigger arena such differences are minimized in the face of greater goals, greater threats. Jews backed civil rights not because they were black--they're not--but because they recognized common causes and opponents and identified with these struggles. The same folks who hated Martin Luther King, Jr. were not likely to invite Jacob Javits for tea either. In this vein, Hispanics across the board may gain pride from Rubio's success, and rail at any slurs directed his way. And that may apply to another immigrant group, Asians, as well, cutting into Democratic majorities among another emerging voting bloc.
Rubio's nomination, let alone his election, is far from assured. We still don't know how the Republican base will respond to him. If he does get the nod, his views on domestic policy are quite conservative and will be controversial. And on foreign policy he is relatively inexperienced, yet he'll be facing former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. So this is no slam dunk. If, however, all the pieces fell into place (an "if" the size of Florida, let's say), he did win, it would change American politics for the foreseeable future. It would be a whole new game.
For one thing, he would change the dynamic of the parties, making the Republicans viable on the national scene once again. Their face would no longer be old and white and rural and religious, but young and urban, ethnic and tolerant. Overjoyed with finally taking back the White House, conservative voters would give Rubio miles of leeway, enabling him to move away from stiff social codes to a more inclusive approach, on a wide variety of topics. One of these would be immigration; if, under his leadership, the Republicans passed a comprehensive reform measure, this could link new citizens from every place on the globe to the GOP, not just for years but for generations.
Plus, he could pass legislation, easing Washington's logjam. Keep in mind that a Rubio presidency would conjoin with both houses of congress in Republican hands. Clearly that would be like herding cats, but as the man who brought the party out of the wilderness, he would enjoy a long honeymoon, tremendous public support, and a lot of clout with party members.
It is a very, very long time till November 2016. But Marco Rubio has the potential to make an impact akin to that of Ronald Reagan, to be a game changer in American politics.
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