Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Rubio's 19th Century Vision For America Isn't Going Anywhere


New York's Gabriel Sherman, writhing about what Team Clinton has in store for Biden: "The research effort started about a month ago and is being conducted by operatives at Correct the Record, the pro-Hillary superpac founded by David Brock, which is coordinating with the Clinton campaign. According to the source, the research has turned up material on Biden’s ties to Wall Street; his reluctance to support the raid that killed Osma bin Laden; and his role in the Anita Hill saga as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee." But with the Clinton opposition research team putting all its energy into readying the attack against Biden, who's preparing to go after whichever maniac the GOP finally nominates?

Yesterday's silly insider buzz was all about how that Republican would be... Rubio. The Real Clear Politics average GOP primary polling has him in 4th place, almost at double-digits and just behind Fiorina, just ahead of Jeb:
Trump- 23.2%
Carson- 17.2%
Fiorina- 10.4%
Rubio- 9.9%
Bush- 8.4%
Cruz- 6.2%
Kasich- 3.2%
Huckabee- 2.9%
Christie- 2.6%
Paul- 2.3%
Nate Cohn admits Rubio "hasn’t quite had his moment in the media spotlight, he hasn’t made big gains in the polls, and he hasn’t earned many endorsements. But," he wrote in yesterday's NYTimes, "the political landscape surrounding his candidacy could not have changed much more in his favor over the last six months." That means that after Walker was driven out of the race Rubio's all the mainstream conservative voters have left other than the pretty loathed and floundering Jeb Bush. In yesterday's PPP survey Rubio's favorables/unfavorables were a relatively robust 57/24% while poor Jeb's were a sorry, low-energy 34/49%. Rubio has picked up some Walker operatives, theoretically a good thing, and some Walker donors and bundlers.
The sense that Mr. Rubio’s position has improved is reflected in the betting markets, which show him rising steadily to a 29 percent chance of winning the nomination, more than twice the 13 percent he held before the last Republican debate. Mr. Bush is at 31 percent.

Mr. Rubio, however, will still need to capitalize on the voids created by Mr. Walker’s exit and Mr. Bush’s weakness. With well-received debate performances, he has been praised as the best communicator in his party and has strong favorability ratings. But he has not yet become the top choice of many party elites or voters; in fact, he holds about as much support in the polls as Mr. Bush, and far fewer endorsements.

Mr. Rubio’s biggest shortcoming is that he is not the natural favorite of any wing of the party, which is the easiest way for a candidate to become the first choice of a meaningful block of voters. He’s the opposite of candidates like Mr. Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul and John Kasich, who have messages and political identities that resonate with one of the party’s core constituencies, like the Tea Party, evangelicals, libertarians or moderates.

Mr. Rubio’s challenge could simply be a reflection of his greatest strength-- his wide appeal. The son-of-a-bartender message is so broadly attractive in part because it’s aimed at no one, except, perhaps, bartender households.

...But it’s also possible that Mr. Rubio’s problems run deeper than the factional politics of a severely divided party. Perhaps his vaunted communication skills haven’t turned into big polling gains because his personal traits-- he’s a young, Catholic, Latino lawyer from Miami-- don’t help him resonate among old, evangelical, white, less-educated and rural voters. His youthful appearance may not help assuage concerns about his preparedness for the presidency.

Beyond his limited experience in national politics, he has big vulnerabilities on his failed immigration reform effort and his ties to a billionaire benefactor.
Paul Waldman and Jonathan Chait were both laughing. Waldman: "By any objective measure, Rubio isn’t doing much better than he was a month or a year ago... But that will probably change. Here’s how the prophecy of Rubio’s future success becomes self-fulfilling. Members of the media decide that Rubio has a good chance of winning the nomination. Then they begin writing more stories about him. Those stories tend to be very positive, not because of some personal pro-Rubio bias any reporter has, but because the stories’ basic frame-- Rubio is climbing, Rubio could be the nominee-- leads them to focus on his more appealing characteristics and the things he’s doing right, as a way of explaining what they say is happening (just as a story about Jeb Bush’s drop in the polls will naturally focus on mistakes that he’s made and things he’s doing wrong). Voters see all this positive coverage, and begin thinking, “Gee, that Rubio fellow is pretty appealing.” Donors see it and give him more money. Other Republican politicians see it and start thinking about whether it’s time to make their endorsement. Each tiny movement upward in the polls, no matter how small, reinforces the cycle and keeps propelling him upward."

Chait seems even more skeptical: "Rubio has carved out a valuable niche in the Republican field as the candidate who will carry out the agenda of the party’s donor base, but who has the identity and communication skills to sell that agenda more effectively... [A]sked if he disagrees with Bush or Romney on anything at all, Rubio does not directly offer any examples. Instead, he says he will “spend a tremendous amount of time talking about higher-education reform.” This is an interesting and perhaps accidentally blunt description of his political strategy. (Obviously Rubio wants to spend a lot of time talking about higher-education reform, and less time talking about less popular things he plans to do in office.) But it’s not true that other Republicans never talked about reforming higher education. Romney talked about it a lot... What’s stranger is Rubio’s claim that his issues-- actually, issue, singular, is completely novel to anything considered by Bush or Romney because “they were not part of the 20th century debate.” The gambit here is to wall off any association between Rubio and previous Republican failures by drawing a line at the century mark, after which all intellectual continuities stop." OK, but that's both silly and untrue.

Michael Tomasky seems about as worried as Rubio as I am-- i.e., not at all. Writing for the Daily Beast yesterday, he was also laughing at the expense of the insiders-- "not regular real people, but total political junkies, and, being on the side of the fence I’m on, mostly liberal total political junkies"-- who are calling it for Rubio already. He agrees with everyone else that Rubio-- for all his weaknesses-- may wind up as the "insider" or "mainstreamish" candidate: :"The logic is straightforward enough. It looks like the race will eventually whittle down to one outsider vs. one insider. The outsider could be Donald Trump or who knows maybe Ben Carson, with an outside shot at Carly Fiorina. As for the insider, not so long ago that was either Rubio or Jeb Bush or John Kasich, throw a dart. But Bush just keeps getting worse and worse, and Kasich looks increasingly goofy."
I think my little focus group is over-sweating this. So herewith, four reasons why Rubio might be formidable, and four corresponding reasons why he’s being overrated.

Reason One: This whole youth business. Let’s face it, on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is the spring chicken. At least she’d be shy of 70 when inaugurated. Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden probably couldn’t last two terms. So Rubio can lay it on thick with all that cloying rhetoric about the future and passing torches to a new generation. The media really fall for that. Oh, and speaking of…

Reason Two: It seems the media like him. They sure like him more than they like Hillary. If she’s the nominee, the default narrative in the media will be something like “fresh-faced new figure takes on tired old hag.”

Reason Three: The Latino vote. You’ll be reading a lot if he’s the nominee about how he won 55 percent of the Latino vote in his first Senate run in Florida in 2010. The press will be full of breathless stories about how if he can replicate that, the Democrats are doomed.

Reason Four: He seems reasonable and totally unthreatening, which may make it hard for Democrats to sell people on the idea that he’s a right-wing extremist. There’s an art for these wingers in knowing how to emphasize all the non-extreme stuff and really play down the extreme parts. Rubio is better at that than the others. A case in point is that woman-on-the-$10-bill business from the second debate. Three of them said Rosa Parks, but Rubio said it first. This was after Rand Paul said Susan B. Anthony, which isn’t bad, but Anthony doesn’t cover nearly as many reassure-mainstream-America bases as Parks does. Also keep in mind that he had that crackerjack answer about Black Lives Matter recently, which was likely the best response to the movement by a GOP candidate. If Rubio can keep doing things like that, the “No, you fools, he’s a true right winger!” counter-narrative might be very tough to advance.

All right. Now, here are the reasons why Rubio is eminently beatable in a general election.

Reason One: His youth story line can be very easily countered. Picture a Clinton-Rubio debate. Rubio prattles on about youth, the future, optimism, what have you. Mrs. Clinton? “Well, look, the Senator is undoubtedly younger than I am, that’s an objective fact. But if we’re talking about which one of us has the policies of the past, I’d say voters should look beyond mere age. Which one of us wants to keep fighting the Cold War in Cuba, and which one of us wants to move toward a new future there? Which one of us opposes gay people getting married, a policy of the past that large majorities of Americans no longer support? Which one of us would allow no abortions even in the case of rape and incest, which is literally kind of a 19th-century position? Which one of us not only opposes raising the minimum wage but opposes the existence of a federal minimum wage law, which would us all the way back to 1937, the last time this country had no federal minimum wage? That’s the candidate of the future?” Boom. If she said something like that and made two good commercials and Democrats in general hammered away at it, Rubio would shut up about the future pretty fast.

Reason Two: The women’s vote. Let’s go back to that abortion sentence above. It was at the first debate that Rubio said no rape or incest exceptions on abortion. Now, if he becomes the nominee, he’ll try to walk that back in some way, at least rhetorically, and he’s usually been clever and slippery in the way he’s worded it. No Republican nominee since abortion became a public issue has ever opposed exceptions for rape and incest. It’s an extreme position that should, if the Democrats hit it the right way, cost him a few points among suburban women in all the key swing states.

Reason Three: The Latino vote. He’s not getting close to 55 percent among Latinos. OK, some say, but what if he gets a mere 40, isn’t that enough? Well, maybe, maybe not, depending on other factors. But after being for immigration reform, he’s now basically against it and against a path to citizenship, although here too he is slippery. He says now that we should postpone the citizenship debate for 10 or 12 years, which means that if he serves eight, he won’t be the guy to be doing anything about it.

So that’s a way of being against it without saying the words “I’m against it,” but people aren’t stupid. In one recent poll that looked especially closely at Latino preferences (PDF), Clinton led Rubio among Latinos 61 to 31 percent (statistically, no different from how she fared against Bush or Ted Cruz). I would bet you today that that’s about how it will end up if those two face each other. And that ain’t enough.

Reason Four: The Electoral College. My long-suffering readers know that I bang on about this a lot, but the Democrats have a big advantage here, and I see nothing about Rubio that will shake this up. Rand Paul could have beaten Clinton in Colorado and Nevada, maybe even Ohio. Not Rubio. And fine, let him win Florida. A Democrat can still get 300-plus electoral votes without Florida.

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