I have been almost uniquely skeptical among my media friends about Marco Rubio — the junior senator from Florida who won a three-way contest in 2010 and knows his way around a party-issued Amex card — running for president in 2016.
Sure, the media loves him. He’s the Latin Ronald Reagan who will save an easily bored and distracted press corps from a future presidential race that seems destined to be dominated by yet another Clinton.
The GOP, for its part, has eagerly pushed Rubio out front, hoping the Os at the end of his first and last names will lure millions of mainly Mexican-American Hispanic voters to the Cuban-American side of the voting aisle, (though polls show the reverse trend may be taking hold.)
So why the skepticism?
Rubio has issues, two of which are named David Rivera, who lost his House seat but not his potential to embarrass his BFF in a presidential contest; and Jim Greer, the former state GOP chair who could loudly remind folks at his corruption trial next week that he was the guy paying Rubio’s party credit card bills when Marco was state House speaker.
But my main source of doubt has been the notion that Jeb Bush, Rubio’s political mentor, is very likely running for president himself.
The theory among pro-Jeb sources is that with the party’s Obama derangement fever finally breaking, Bush the Younger, also known as the son who should have been president, or who at least would have gotten Hurricane Katrina right, is in the best position to take advantage. House Republicans’ ratings are in the basement. Fox News’ slip is showing after blowing the election. And factions of the tea party are actually considering changing their name.
The Republican party is “rebranding!” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor even did his best Obama imitation at the American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday, calling on Republicans to seek a “fair shot” for all, as the “health, happiness and prosperity” party. Cantor was flanked by every flavor of the American pie: a black dad who just wants his son to go to charter school, a woman who just wants her medical devices . . . and did I mention Ronald Reagan’s dad was a shoe salesman?
Who better to lead this “new” GOP than a scion of the old one.
Jeb speaks fluent Spanish, has a Mexican-American wife, and even “friended” President Obama on school reform. More important, he knows how to talk like a conservative without sounding nuts. Now that the party has tried crazy (birtherism, nativist ravings and rape as God’s quirky way of ensuring more babies) and failed, they might be willing to give another Bush a go.
Karl Rove even has a genius new super-PAC (because the old one worked out so well in 2012), so the gang’s all here.
Except that many in the party believe the gang is better represented by the younger, browner Rubio. And he and Jeb can’t both be the Republican nominee. They can’t even be a ticket, due to the constitutional prohibition against a president and vice president hailing from the same state.
Meanwhile, Rubio seems to be polishing his résumé.
He’s reversed himself on immigration; running in 2010 as an anti-DREAM Act tea partier, but now proposing legislation just like DREAM, only festooned with dramatic language on border security and a vague legal status that falls short of citizenship for children brought to the country illegally by their parents.
He has straddled the line between the party’s anti-science crowd and the youth vote, insisting he’s “not a scientist, man!” in a GQ interview (in which he also claimed his favorite rappers are N.W.A., Tupac and Eminem), only to later clarify that he totally knows the earth isn’t 6,000 years old.
Rubio is one of several members of GOP 2.0 — including Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Cantor and even union-busting Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who seem to be positioning themselves to lead a party newly eager to shove its Rush Limbaugh-loving, assault weapon worshipping, Obama hating, mad as hell all day, every day, base in a corner — until they need them again at get-out-the-vote time.
Of course, it’s too early to know whether the GOP’s Great Latino Hope will challenge his political godfather in primary season. But Rubio is nothing if not an ambitious, dexterous political opportunist.
Jeb had better watch his back.