Why Marco Rubio’s likely nomination is not a good thing.
Last April, I wrote a piece for The Daily Dot about why Marco Rubio would never be the Republican presidential nominee. In the aftermath of the Iowa caucus, I feel compelled to retract that prediction… although not because the points I made there were entirely wrong. The problem is that, when I analyzed Rubio’s candidacy ten months ago, Donald Trump hadn’t scared the GOP establishment into desperately scrambling for any electable alternative to The Donald. By running for president, Trump changed everything, and in the process has enabled the nomination of a by-the-numbers conservative who would be just as bad as the Republican presidents who preceded him.
Allow me to explain.
Since 1968, every Republican presidential nomination has gone to a candidate pre-determined by the party’s established leaders and power brokers. Its beneficiaries so far have been Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Robert Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. Before Trump announced his candidacy last summer, though, the party establishment hadn’t yet settled on a presumptive nominee. Thus when Trump began running away with the lead in national polls and the early primary states alike, the GOP found itself genuinely scared that a man widely deemed unelectable would be at the head of their ticket in 2016. Even worse, the only challenger who seemed poised to seize the nomination from Trump was Ted Cruz, who is also widely regarded as unelectable.
This brings us to Rubio. Despite only placing third in the Iowa caucus, he has benefited the most in the ensuing polls, and is currently poised to either win or place a strong second in the upcoming New Hampshire primary. He is acting like the frontrunner because, despite Cruz placing first in Iowa and Trump still leading in national polls, he understands that a GOP leadership which believes both Trump and Cruz would be destined to lose is now desperate for Rubio to serve as their salvation. If nearly half a century of political history hold true today, he will ultimately be proved correct.
In a normal election year, of course, Rubio would be fiercely contending against other GOP establishmentarians for the nomination right now. The only reason his nomination has become inevitable is that the Iowa caucus rendered this election into a three-way race and, according to conventional wisdom, two of those three remaining candidates are politically toxic. Consequently, the GOP establishment will pool all of its resources behind Rubio simply by default.
The problem with this is that it leaves the same entities in charge of the Republican Party who have dominated that organization for years. Ideologically speaking, Rubio is just as conservative as Trump and Cruz when it comes to economic policy (pro-business and anti-labor), international relations (neo-conservative), and social issues (a staunch ally of the Christian Right). The main reason he never developed the grassroots support that mobilized behind Trump and Cruz is that he supported immigration reform (before flip-flopping on it), which lowered his appeal among a party that displayed its animus toward immigrants by way of Trump’s surging popularity. Indeed, his stance on immigration reform was probably made worse by his own Cuban heritage; while far right-wingers may overlook the Latino background of a candidate like Cruz, who has never championed the interests of undocumented immigrants, they are far less inclined toward tolerance for a candidate like Rubio, who has.
That said, although Rubio’s status as “everyone’s second choice” would have probably doomed him in a normal election cycle, the post-Trump and post-Cruz GOP cares only about the fact that he is young, attractive, and telegenic enough to be electable even while faithfully cleaving to his party’s ideological narrative. As president, there is no reason to believe that the same power brokers who pulled the strings under Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and the two Bushes wouldn’t do the same thing under Rubio. This is what makes Rubio’s inevitable nomination so problematic – it simply confirms that, no matter what, certain things stubbornly resist necessary change.
Postscript (2/8/16): Words cannot express my shock at Rubio’s horrendous performance at the most recent Republican debate. Wow. Just wow.