Discounting his pathetic New Hampshire debate performance three weeks ago, Marco Rubio, who’s vying to be president of the United States, is, nevertheless, a good debater. Save for that goofy showing, he has won most of the Republican debates so far. He’s quick on his feet. He’s eloquent. He’s telegenic, often flashing that boyish smile the writer Howard Fineman once described as “halfway between a barracuda and a choirboy.”
And Rubio is young, too. At 44, he contrasts sharply with any of the two candidates on the Democratic side in terms of age. He talks a good game about himself being a candidate of the future, while either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, in his own estimation, is a relic of the past. Rubio thinks the Democratic nominee will be Clinton, and he cannot wait to run against her. The Republican Establishment also believes that, and is investing in Rubio heavily towards that goal. Nice.
Except that there’s a problem. To run against Clinton — assuming she becomes the nominee —Rubio has to be the Republican nominee first. To be the Republican nominee, he has to win primaries and caucuses. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case thus far. Donald Trump, the millionaire businessman, is the one raking in all the victories.
But Rubio is too clever by half. Finishing third in the Iowa caucuses on February 1, he quickly went on stage to give a victory speech. “For months, they told us because we offered too much optimism in a time of anger, we had no chance,” Rubio said to loud applause.
Finishing second in the South Carolina primary on February 20, Rubio gave another victory speech. On stage with him were members of his family, Tim Scott, the African-American junior senator from that state, and Nikki Haley, the state’s Indian-American governor, who warmly opened her arms wide to receive Rubio on stage. Together, the three showcased what party officials soon began to tout as the new face of the Republican Party: a party of diversity. In his speech, Rubio gushed on that theme and spent minutes talking about his own life story as the son of Cuban immigrants, a la Barrack Obama in 2004 and 2008. Except that Rubio is no Obama.
Finishing second in the Nevada caucuses the other night, the Florida senator also gave a third victory speech. His audience cheered rapturously.
Question: At what point will Rubio finish ahead of the pack? And if he ever does, what kind of “victory” speech should we be expecting?
Answer: Rubio may never notch any primary or caucus victory. Not even in his own state of Florida where he’s doing poorly, compared to Trump. In Florida, Rubio is supported by 28 percent of voters, a distant second to Trump’s 44 percent support among likely voters, according to a poll released today by Quinnipiac University. Florida holds its primary on March 15.
Despite his natural gifts, Rubio’s problems are many, and they’re such as make him ill-suited for the highest office in the land. He has run a poor campaign so far. He won’t stick it to Trump for fear that the frontrunner will eviscerate him in the same manner he eviscerated Bush, Rick Perry, and some of the other candidates who have dropped out of the race. He doesn’t have the courage either to stick to his guns: he can support a bill today and flinch from that same bill the very next day as soon as criticisms start coming his way for it. You ask: Does Rubio ever have a core? Rubio , I’m afraid, is callow, inexperienced and, as Chris Christie once described him, “truant.” As a senator representing Florida, he has allegedly missed far more votes than any of his senatorial colleagues campaigning for the same office. There are more. But none of these things seems to matter a wee bit to those who are investing in him because they see in Rubio a pliant, malleable individual they can use effectively once he’s elected as president. God works in mysterious ways. Maybe that’s why Rubio may never win a primary and therefore become president.