Chris Good smartly observes that yesterday was not simply the anniversary of the $787B stimulus plan but also that of the ascendancy of Marco Rubio. It was the stimulus plan that vaulted Rubio into the Senate race and now into a double-digit lead:
Much of the previously-little-known former state House speaker’s campaign against Gov. Charlie Crist (R) has focused on Crist’s support of the stimulus. Rubio has hit the governor repeatedly for it since announcing his candidacy. In November, Rubio launched the website CharlieandObama.com, dedicated entirely to tying Crist to Obama for his backing of the $787 billion package–with a now-infamous photo of Crist physically embracing Obama displayed prominently. …
Despite the money that it brought to Florida, that move proved to be an easy and effective weapon for Rubio–who wasn’t yet running for Senate–to claw his way into a competitive race with the well-known Crist. Since then, Rubio steadily hammered Crist on the stimulus, and, despite no one knowing who he was and seemingly having no chance in polls at the start of the primary race, he’s become the darling candidate not just of conservatives in Florida, but of activists and prominent conservative interest groups nationwide.
Today Rubio is the headliner at the CPAC gathering in D.C. (“A darling of the tea party movement and conservative grassroots activists who view the establishment-backed Crist as a squishy, unprincipled moderate, Rubio has suddenly emerged as the belle of the conservative ball.”) In typically tone-deaf fashion, a Crist aide put out a fake version of Rubio’s speech that began “Since my campaign began, I’ve had the privilege of becoming the latest cover boy.” Needless to say, Crist wasn’t invited to the event, and the reminder that Rubio is the latest conservative rock star probably doesn’t help Crist’s cause.
In his rise in the polls, Rubio had some help along the way, primarily from Crist, who ran a hapless race, seemed at odds with the energized conservative base, and now has to cope with a financial scandal in the state party headed by Crist’s confidante. But it was Rubio who sensed the right message well before many other Republicans did. Good explains, ”Crist’s support for the stimulus was the beginning of Florida conservatives’ discontent with their centrist governor, opening a door for Rubio, according to South Florida Tea Party Chairman Everett Wilkinson. ‘It was the tipping point for most conservatives, who said enough is enough,’ Wilkinson said. ‘I think Rubio came along at the right time and said, ‘I’m for smaller government, I’m for balancing the budget.’”
Rubio has proved to be a successful political fundraiser and bridge-builder, putting together inside-the-Beltway conservatives and Tea Party protesters. But recall that a contingent of the “smart” (as in the Obami’s “smart” diplomacy, which means not at all) punditocracy on the Right didn’t want him to run. He’d mess up Crist’s victory lap, they said. Then the mainstream media got into the act, predicting a civil war.
Rubio wisely ignored all that and stuck to a principled conservative platform and an upbeat tone. The latter shouldn’t be ignored. If one looks at the Republican winners of late — Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell, and Scott Brown — there wasn’t a grouchy, gloom-and-doomer in the lot. In fact, they made the other guys and gals seems like the aggrieved grumps.
So what are the political lessons from Rubio’s success for other Republicans? Ignore Republican insiders; they’re nearly always wrong. Take principled conservative stances on issues voters care most about and stick to them. Ignore early polls; they’re meaningless. Be cheery, avoid personal attacks, and never get in the way of your opponent when he’s self-destructing. That, come to think of it, was pretty close to the Christie-McDonnell-Brown model as well. Oh, and the most important thing: make sure to run when Obama-Reid-Pelosi are in charge. And that opportunity may not last much longer.