The Road to 2016: The Case for Marco Rubio

Disclaimer: Matt McDaniel, the author of this piece is a candidate for the First District City Council Seat in Baltimore City. While this rankings list does not touch or concern Mr. McDaniel’s race, in the interest of disclosure, Mr. McDaniel has made no endorsements of any candidates and has received no money or funding from any of the candidates on this list. His campaign website can be found here.


Introduction: This series is a bit of a follow-up on the candidate bios we ran at the outset of the GOP primary season. With the race better defined, folks are looking for a more in-depth analysis of the major candidates and the state of the campaign as a whole. That said, my goal in “The Case For” series is to highlight the major candidates still in the race and present a (hopefully) objective look at each and what he or she could/should/might do to win the nomination. To be clear, none of these posts are an endorsement of any particular candidate. Rather, take them as a snapshot of the race and where the campaigns are at the moment.

A Brief Bio

Marco Rubio is the 44 year old current junior Senator from Florida. A son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and his juris doctorate from University of Miami Law School.

In late 1999, Rubio won a run-off primary election to fill a vacant seat in Florida’s 111th State House District and then defeated a Democrat in January of 2000 to take the seat. Later that year, and again in 2002, Rubio won reelection unopposed. In 2004, Rubio won his third term in the Florida House with 2/3 of the vote and then went on to be reelected for a fourth term unopposed in 2006. In 2005, Rubio ran and was elected to the Speakership of the Florida House of Representatives.

Rubio ran for, and was elected to, the United States Senate in 2010 as part of the “Tea Party” wave that swept Democrats from power in the House of Representatives and cut into the Democrat majority in the US Senate. Rubio’s tenure in the Senate has shown that he is generally favorable to compromise and the workings of Washington. Specifically, Rubio’s attempts a bipartisan immigration reform, nicknamed the “Gang of Eight” in 2013, earned him accolades from Washington insiders while drawing criticism from hardliners on the far-right. Rubio sits on both the Commerce Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee.

We would be remiss to discuss Rubio without a mention of his notorious GOP Response to the President’s 2013 State of the Union Address where Rubio performed, possibly, the most awkward reach for a sip of water in television history.

The current criticism of Rubio centers on the total number of votes that he has missed as a United States Senator. From January of 2011 until early 2015, Rubio missed less-than 10% of votes in the Senate. However, since declaring his intention to run for President, this number has increased.

The Current State of the Race

There is a growing consensus that Senator Rubio will be the “establishment” candidate for the 2016 elections. This prediction comes from the generally lackluster performance of Jeb Bush and the unpredicted swell in support for candidates like Donald Trump and Ben Carson among the hardcore conservatives in the Party.

Rubio is currently polling a solid-third-place in most national poll results and looks to be gaining in New Hampshire.

The Upside

The upside of the Rubio candidacy making its move a year before the election appears to be that there will be a coalescence of the “establishment” around Rubio with time to generate an effective firestop against Donald Trump or any other outside candidate. Rubio is well-spoken, well-prepared, educated and adept at building his image.

With strong performances in each of the three Republican debates (arguably getting stronger with each successive outing), Rubio is showing voters that, despite his age and the fact that he has only been in Washington for a little under five years, he has the essential skills to be able to take the helm of the nation. Rubio’s impressive predictions of future Russian operations in Syria showed that he has a command of foreign policy topics. Now, whether this is effective briefing or personal acumen remains unclear. However, the fact that Rubio was able to show understanding of complex foreign policy issues will make him more palatable to conservatives in the Party.

Importantly, while Rubio does cater to “establishment” interests, he is likely going to be able to run closer to an “outsider” model that some Republicans are clamoring for among the myriad of candidates in the field. Rubio’s relative inexperience and his missing votes may appear on their face to be a stumbling block for the Florida Senator, but, in reality, they may play to a narrative that Washington is too dysfunctional to get anything done and that Rubio is not part of the problem.

Senator Rubio is also likely to score points with both superficial and in-depth voters. On the surface, Rubio will likely either hold his own or surpass Hillary Clinton in debates. The contrast of young, Cuban, and energetic Rubio against old, insider, un-relateable Clinton is a matchup the Party would like to see. From a deeper perspective, Rubio puts Florida in play from the electoral math perspective (note that there is no current model, given the current battleground map, that gives the GOP the White House without a win in Florida). Rubio also may put Pennsylvania in play.

The last major upside for a Rubio candidacy is the Party’s movement to engage with Hispanic voters. Despite his being of Cuban heritage, Rubio still appeals to a set of the Party looking to diversify into courting Hispanic and Latino voters.

The Downside

The downside of Rubio is that he can be characterized as “the Republican Obama.” Now, before you jump down my throat explaining that Rubio was Speaker of the Florida House and did not miss nearly as many Senate votes as Obama did when Obama was a Senator, I draw your attention to the amount of words you need to use to effectively counter the appellation. “The Republican Obama” will stick for several reasons:

  • He is a first term Senator with a less-than-stellar voting record
  • He is the Party’s “preferred outreach” minority
  • He is a general blank slate onto which voters can write their goals
  • His rhetoric is better than his record in the Senate
  • He is young and enthusiastic

With these points in mind, Rubio appears to be the Republican Obama. Now, this is only an effective criticism in the primary (where voters on the GOP side generally disfavor anything related to Obama and his policies). Were Rubio to clear the primary hurdle, Democrats will avoid the characterization with risk of throwing the sitting President under the bus.

What the Other Side Will Say

Hillary Clinton will likely use her “experience” card to try to trump Rubio’s vigor and skill. Certainly, Mrs. Clinton will state that the Senator’s full career was only one of her many positions throughout her life (she’ll say: Rubio’s barely-one term is nothing compared to her two terms in the Senate, Secretary of State career, time as First Lady and as a Mother). This will be a very effective play for individuals looking for particular check boxes in their candidates.

If Rubio is the nominee, the Clinton camp will consider re-tooling itself to create a bulwark in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Look for Senator Tim Kaine (former DNC chair and Governor of Virginia) to be on the short list for Vice President as well as Senator Bob Casey from Pennsylvania. The other short-list pick is Obama’s Housing and Urban Development Secretary and former Mayor of San Antonio, Julian Castro.

The Path to the Nomination

The math as it exists right now is still too-fuzzy to make out exactly the positions of all of the moving pieces in the race. However, Rubio’s path to the nomination looks something like:

Third Place in Iowa, Second or First in New Hampshire, win Nevada, Show in South Carolina then capture Colorado, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Virginia on Super Tuesday. The big day for the Rubio campaign is Tuesday, March 15 when both Ohio and Florida are up for grabs. A win in Florida effectively seals the deal for Rubio (win or lose). At this point, we need to assume that Jeb Bush remains in the race. If things stay as they are as of the time of this writing, the three-way fight between Trump, Bush, and Rubio in Florida will decide the course of the nomination.

A win for Rubio is not guaranteed if we assume that Ted Cruz is going to be making a play for the South and Texas is the early stages of the primaries. Rubio’s strategy partially hinges on his out-fundraising Cruz in the next months in order to stave off Cruz defections late in the primary game next year. Certainly Trump and Carson are game-changers if they stay in the race or start winning large numbers of delegates. However, in the event of a brokered convention, the most likely candidate to emerge would be Rubio.

Should You Bet Money on this Candidate?

Not your life’s savings, but probably more on Rubio than on anyone else in the race.

Matt McDaniel

Attorney and Political Commentator

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