As a national candidate, the Florida senator radiates promise. He gave what many consider the best speech at the Republican National Convention in August; it was overshadowed by the debacle involving the actor Clint Eastwood the same night. Rubio’s response to Obama’s State of the Union address was considered banal, with much attention devoted to his decision to lunge for a drink of water while speaking. He shrewdly recovered, marketing the bottled water. In retail politics he has few peers.
Still, there are some red flags. On the Senate Intelligence Committee, he failed to impress some high-ranking officials who privately described him as more show than substance. In Florida, where he became speaker of the State House, he cut corners on ethics. These transgressions and concerns about governing gravitas are why he didn’t make Mitt Romney’s final cut for the vice-presidential nomination.
His palpable presidential aspirations face another possible roadblock: Jeb Bush. The former Florida governor was helpful to Rubio’s 2010 Senate primary victory. But there’s no real trust between these two prominent politicians, and if Bush runs in 2016 he may clear the Florida field. The smart betting is that Bush won’t run.
Rubio has said that “for most of my life, I’ve been in a hurry.” It can be fatal for a promising politician to move too fast, too soon; witness Dan Quayle.
Yet one who did and succeeded is in the White House today. Rubio fans note that in three years he’ll have more experience than Obama had in 2008: two more years in the Senate, and a record as a leader, not just a member, of his state Legislature. If he helps shepherd an immigration bill, he’ll have the major legislative achievement that eluded Sen. Obama.
One more Washington comparison: the young baseball phenomenon, 20-year-old Bryce Harper, whose two runs allowed the Washington Nationals to win their opening game.
Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist.