Commentary Magazine


Topic: Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio Won’t Pander to Win the Immigration Primary

There is no question that Donald Trump is driving the agenda for a substantial number of the Republican Party’s presidential aspirants. The 2016 field’s reaction to a Trump campaign positioning statement on immigration, which introduced the notion that birthright citizenship afforded to the children of immigrants in accordance with the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was an unacceptable inducement to break American immigration laws, confirmed this phenomenon. Suddenly, the conservative position on immigration became the repeal of birthright citizenship, a process that even former Supreme Court litigator Ted Cruz acknowledged could only be achieved through the amendment process. In other words, it’s a fantasy. You couldn’t get two-thirds of both chambers of Congress and 38 state legislators to ratify an amendment affirming the deliciousness of vanilla ice cream. But while the GOP is indulging in a daydream that will never be realized, they’re alienating those swing voters they need to win the White House – namely, the Hispanic, Indian, and Asian Americans who wonder why the GOP is now expressing antipathy toward legal as well as illegal immigrants. But not every 2016 hopeful has taken the bait. Some, like Marco Rubio and, to a lesser extent, Jeb Bush, have declined to follow Donald Trump and his restive quarter of the GOP primary electorate over a cliff.  Read More

There is no question that Donald Trump is driving the agenda for a substantial number of the Republican Party’s presidential aspirants. The 2016 field’s reaction to a Trump campaign positioning statement on immigration, which introduced the notion that birthright citizenship afforded to the children of immigrants in accordance with the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was an unacceptable inducement to break American immigration laws, confirmed this phenomenon. Suddenly, the conservative position on immigration became the repeal of birthright citizenship, a process that even former Supreme Court litigator Ted Cruz acknowledged could only be achieved through the amendment process. In other words, it’s a fantasy. You couldn’t get two-thirds of both chambers of Congress and 38 state legislators to ratify an amendment affirming the deliciousness of vanilla ice cream. But while the GOP is indulging in a daydream that will never be realized, they’re alienating those swing voters they need to win the White House – namely, the Hispanic, Indian, and Asian Americans who wonder why the GOP is now expressing antipathy toward legal as well as illegal immigrants. But not every 2016 hopeful has taken the bait. Some, like Marco Rubio and, to a lesser extent, Jeb Bush, have declined to follow Donald Trump and his restive quarter of the GOP primary electorate over a cliff. 

Something changed within the last 24 hours for these two typically establishmentarian Republican presidential candidates. Bush, once a soft-spoken and conflict-averse candidate, has grown more aggressive. Declining to follow in the footsteps of the rest of the GOP field, many of which are trying to inherit Trump’s voters when he fades from the race, Bush is attacking Trump in stark terms. “Mr. Trump doesn’t have a proven conservative record,” Bush recently averred. “He was a Democrat longer in the last decade than he was a Republican.” Informing voters that they have been misled and are making a grave mistake is rarely the way to win hearts, but Bush may presume that Trump’s supporters will never warm to his candidacy and that he has little to lose.

Bush has, however, also allowed himself to be pushed to the right on immigration by Trump’s ascendency. He demonstrated as much when he defended the use of the term “anchor babies.”

“Do you have a better term? You give me a better term and I’ll use it,” Bush told reporters in a response the Washington Post characterized as churlish. “What I said is that it’s commonly referred to that. I didn’t use it as my own language. You want to get to the policy for a second? I think that people born in this country ought to be American citizens.” Bush’s cleanup effort hasn’t helped his cause. His comments immediately became the singular focus of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, which has aggressively sought to frame Bush’s remarks as heartless and inappropriate.

Regardless of the accuracy of that term, it is one that many Hispanics find offensive. For some of Trump’s supporters, that is no doubt its most attractive quality. The celebrity candidate’s backers bristle at what they regard to be, with justification, a culture that eschews clarity merely to preserve the fragile feelings of the easily offended. There’s validity to that position, but there is also virtue in knowing what fights to pick and what hills simply aren’t worth dying over. By contrast, Marco Rubio has prudently declined to fall on this indefensible terrain.

“When I talk about 13 million people in this country illegally, I talk about 13 million human beings,” Rubio told CNBC’s John Harwood.

“Ultimately, they’re people,” Rubio added when pressed over whether the term “anchor babies” was appropriate. “They’re not just statistics. They’re human beings with stories.” Rubio is not ceding the fight over illegal immigration – he affirmed the need of a sovereign country to enforce its immigration laws and secure its borders. Rubio’s critics, many of whom mistake tough talk for tough policy, will see his prudence and presume capitulation.

“I’m not in favor of repealing the 14th Amendment,” Rubio said on Tuesday. “But I am open to exploring ways of not allowing people who are coming here deliberately for that purpose to acquire citizenship.” Many Republican voters will characterize this as a dodge. To an extent, it is. But the needle that Rubio has to thread in order to maintain his appeal to the conservative base while avoiding the trap that sprung on Mitt Romney will be tricky. Thus far, Rubio has deftly walked that line.

Fortunately for the GOP, it is becoming an easier line to walk.

On Wednesday, city police took into custody two Boston brothers. Scott Leader, 38, and Steven Leader, 30, were both held without bail on charges of assault, indecent exposure, and threatening to commit a crime. Their alleged misdeed? The two brothers were arrested after they were accused of beating and urinating on a homeless man of Hispanic descent. Their 58-year-old victim escaped with a broken nose as well as serious bruises and lacerations. “Donald Trumps as right,” Scott Leader told his arresting officer, according to court records. “All these illegals need to be deported.”

Every Republican candidate should be prepared to answer the political press’s unfair questions, and being linked to racist and violent supporters is something that any candidate should fear. It’s surely a double standard, but every competent Republican candidate should be prepared to navigate that pitfall. Trump was not.

“It would be a shame… I will say that people who are following me are very passionate,” Trump told the Boston Globe when asked about this attack. “They love this country, and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate.”

Wrong answer. A callous and cruel answer at that. Every Republican who expended effort to comport to the standard of discourse Trump has set will soon come to regret it. When that time comes, and it will be soon, it seems as though Rubio will have few regrets.

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Will the Right Sabotage the ObamaCare Replacement Debate?

There is no question that the GOP’s prospective standard-bearers have been thrown off course, off message, and off brand by the unforeseen entry of Donald Trump into the race. But while the bull in the china shop is busily shattering porcelain to the sound of the multitudes’ cheers, some of the Republican Party’s 2016 hopefuls are valiantly attempting to get their campaigns back on track. It would be an unrivaled tragedy if they were thwarted in that effort by their erstwhile conservative allies. Read More

There is no question that the GOP’s prospective standard-bearers have been thrown off course, off message, and off brand by the unforeseen entry of Donald Trump into the race. But while the bull in the china shop is busily shattering porcelain to the sound of the multitudes’ cheers, some of the Republican Party’s 2016 hopefuls are valiantly attempting to get their campaigns back on track. It would be an unrivaled tragedy if they were thwarted in that effort by their erstwhile conservative allies.

As the Republican presidential primary race lumbers into the fall, the 2016 candidates have been forced by the contest’s frontrunner to litigate the validity of the first section of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution that grants birthright citizenship to the children of immigrants born in America. It is an academic and politically injurious debate over the revision of an amendment that serves as the jurisprudential basis for a substantial number of the country’s anti-discrimination precedents. Meanwhile, a variety of more on-message items of value to conservative voters are going overlooked.

Hillary Clinton’s email scandal continues to expand and slowly swamp her presidential ambitions. The disastrous Iran nuclear deal has lost the support of another Democratic senator, former ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez. Even the Planned Parenthood videos that once imperiled that organization’s federal subsidies are going overlooked. All of these more pressing matters, none of which will receive their due attention in the political press without consistent Republican pressure, have slid from the front pages.

But a handful of GOP hopefuls have admirably attempted to regain control of the narrative, and they are doing so with bold proposals aimed at repealing and replacing ObamaCare.

On Tuesday, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker revealed his ObamaCare replacement plan at an event in Minnesota. His plan begins with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act in its entirety and replaces much of the insurance access issues ObamaCare addressed with tax credits. He noted that the 35-year-old childless woman without health insurance who currently receives no federal subsidies would have access to $2,100 annually in tax credits under his plan. Walker’s proposal would lift caps on health care savings accounts, open up an interstate insurance marketplace, and provide states with federal grants to cover the uninsured with preexisting conditions. Most notably, Walker’s proposal reforms Medicaid with capped allotments program similar to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). “States would receive a guaranteed level of funding from the federal government,” Walker’s plan read. “The states’ share would be converted from a match to a specified state contribution.”

Walker wasn’t alone. Just hours prior to the release of his plan, Florida Senator Marco Rubio also introduced a laudably bold proposal to replace ObamaCare with a conservative alternative. His program also provides all Americans with access to refundable tax credits that increase annually. His program would cover the uninsurable that struggle with preexisting conditions by inducing the creation of “federally-supported, actuarially-sound and state-based high-risk pools.” Finally, Rubio also takes aim at entitlement reform, but his plan reforms Medicare as well as Medicaid. “We must move Medicaid into a per-capita block grant system, preserving funding for its recipients while freeing states from Washington mandates,” Rubio wrote. “A premium support model will empower seniors with choice and market competition just like Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D already do.”

These are not only responsible plans for reining in uncontrolled and unsustainable federal entitlements, but they are courageous examples of Republican candidates making the hard choices that they know may soon be demagogued to death. They should and likely do expect to be portrayed by cynical Democrats as heartless butchers throwing helpless old ladies to the wolves, but they might not expect that their fellow Republicans will undermine these proposals for cheap political benefit.

The intramural race is now on to attack both of these ObamaCare replacement plans from all directions.

“In Governor Walker’s plan, a new entitlement is created for every single American human being from the time they are born right up until they grow old and become eligible for Medicare,” said Louisiana’s Governor Bobby Jindal. “It is frankly shocking that a Republican candidate for President would author a cradle to grave plan like this.” Jindal, who offered an ObamaCare replacement plan earlier than most of his Republican rivals, backs a $100 billion allotment to states to create high-risk pools and has expressed openness to the notion of Rubio-style refundable tax credits. But Jindal has also sought to position himself as the candidate who would repeal the ACA and replace it with something entirely state-based. In essence, Jindal is trying to have it both ways.

Then there are Republicans like Mike Huckabee who has framed his candidacy as a defender of the status quo ante – from entitlement programs to the social mores of the 20th Century Huckabee stands athwart history. The former Arkansas governor has not spoken up yet, but, if he is consistent, he will attack Walker and Rubio’s plans for tackling the problem of entitlement growth.

Of course, there is the steamroller at the top of the polls. In 2011, Donald Trump earned the ire and excoriation of members of the GOP talker class for attacking Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform plan. When Trump told Ryan to “sit back and relax” on the issue of entitlement reform, radio talk show host Mark Levin called him an “airhead” who sounded “stupid.” Obviously, much has changed in the intervening years. It’s not inconceivable to wake up tomorrow to a world in which the conservative movement’s most celebrated television and radio hosts, invested as they are in Trump’s success and the commensurate ratings bounce, would paper over Trump’s antipathy toward entitlement reform (presuming the candidate remains consistent on the matter – an admittedly risky presumption).

If that happened, it would be the single worst sacrifice the conservative movement could make to the Trump ascendency. The bulwark of public opinion in favor of the deeply unpopular project of reforming unsustainable entitlements has thus far been the conservative movement’s entertainer class. If they were to abandon that position in favor of the short-term infusion of energy Trump provides, their audiences would also surrender to the inevitable expansion of the welfare state.

Walker and Rubio have their work cut out for them in the effort to explain to the public the benefits of reforming the nation’s entitlement system and replacing the Affordable Care Act. In their quest to make a case to the pubic over the noise of cynical Democrats and opportunistic Republicans, they have their work cut out for them.

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Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio Outline Their Foreign Policy Visions

While the clown car that is the Donald Trump campaign continues to careen around the stage, drawing outsize media attention, the serious candidates for the Republican nomination are putting forward serious proposals that deserve more serious consideration than they are getting. Just in the last few days, Jeb Bush has given a substantive speech on how he would handle Syria and Iraq, and Foreign Affairs published a substantive article by Marco Rubio articulating his broad foreign policy vision. (Full disclosure: I have advised both candidates on foreign policy.) Read More

While the clown car that is the Donald Trump campaign continues to careen around the stage, drawing outsize media attention, the serious candidates for the Republican nomination are putting forward serious proposals that deserve more serious consideration than they are getting. Just in the last few days, Jeb Bush has given a substantive speech on how he would handle Syria and Iraq, and Foreign Affairs published a substantive article by Marco Rubio articulating his broad foreign policy vision. (Full disclosure: I have advised both candidates on foreign policy.)

The attention devoted to Bush’s speech yesterday at the Reagan library has focused mainly on his criticisms of Hillary Clinton’s record on Iraq. I addressed that issue in a separate blog post. But what’s worth stressing is that this was only a short passage in a much meatier speech that laid out concrete proposals for addressing the problems of Iraq and Syria in a way that Clinton has not yet done.

On Iraq, Bush called for doing more to support not only the Iraqi Security Forces but also the Sunni tribes and Kurdish Peshmerga. He also called for sending tactical air controllers to call in air strikes and allowing our advisers to embed with Iraqi military personnel on operations in the way that Canadian Special Forces already do. He did not spell out exactly how much of a troop commitment he would make to Iraq, but he did say “more may well be needed” (beyond the 3,500 already there), even if he also said, “We do not need, and our friends do not ask for, a major commitment of American combat forces.”

On Syria, he called for expanded efforts to train and equip moderate rebels, creating “multiple safe zones,” and a no-fly zone. The last point is especially important. Bush spelled out the importance of a no-fly zone: “Enforce that no-fly zone, and we’ll stop the regime’s bombing raids that kill helpless civilians.  It could also keep Iranian flights from resupplying the regime, Hizballah, and other bad actors.  A no-fly zone is a critical strategic step to cut off Assad, counter Iranian influence, keep the pressure on for a settlement, and prevent more needless death in a country that has seen so much of it.” Those arguments are strong ones, but even though a no-fly zone has been on the drawing board of years, Obama has never pulled the trigger. Bush said he would. That’s an important commitment.

Bush also made another important commitment: to begin rebuilding the armed forces from the Draconian budget cuts enforced as part of the mindless sequestration process that Obama and the Congress have instituted and refuse to roll back—even if Bush did not commit to a particular level of defense spending.

Meanwhile, in the new issue of Foreign Affairs, Marco Rubio lays out his foreign policy vision for confronting “the residual effects of President Obama’s foreign and defense policies.” His goal is to “restore the post-1945 bipartisan presidential tradition of a strong and engaged America while adjusting it to meet the new realities of a globalized world.”

His policy has three pillars: first, restoring American strength (which would involve, for a start, rescinding the deeply flawed nuclear agreement with Iran), protecting the open international trade system, and displaying “moral clarity regarding America’s core values.” Interestingly (and courageously), Rubio wants to promote freedom in China, an issue that the U.S. government normally shies away form. “By advancing the three pillars of my foreign policy,” Rubio concludes, “I intend to restore American leadership to a world badly in need of it and defend our interests in what I’m confident will be another American century.”

Obviously this is an overarching vision and a lot of details need to be filled in—but Rubio has shown his mastery of precisely such details in past interviews (including a notable showdown with Charlie Rose at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York) and there is no doubt he will shine on the specifics in future debates.

The important point is that Rubio has articulated a compelling foreign policy vision, and Bush has articulated a compelling strategy for dealing with the messes that Obama has presided over in Iraq and Syria. This is a long way removed from Donald Trump’s bar-stool aphorisms — e.g., his strategy for dealing with ISIS: “Now we go in, we knock the hell out of them, take the oil, we thereby take their wealth. They have so much money.”

Rubio and Bush, along with other Republican candidates such as Scott Walker and Chris Christie, are laying out a serious and compelling vision for dealing with our most pressing foreign policy problems, something that Hillary Clinton, who has more foreign policy experience than any of the Republicans, has yet to do. Too bad all of the press attention continues to be riveted on Trump’s latest vulgarities.

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The Real Issue in the Iran Debate

The transcript of Senator Marco Rubio’s conversation with Jeffrey Goldberg, published yesterday, contains a concise and incisive analysis of the catastrophic consequences of President Obama’s foreign policy – the result of a basic belief that America was the problem in the world, not the solution, and that the Middle East could be stabilized if only Israel transferred more land to the Palestinians. Obama’s seriatim withdrawals from the region created a vacuum that has led to chaos: Read More

The transcript of Senator Marco Rubio’s conversation with Jeffrey Goldberg, published yesterday, contains a concise and incisive analysis of the catastrophic consequences of President Obama’s foreign policy – the result of a basic belief that America was the problem in the world, not the solution, and that the Middle East could be stabilized if only Israel transferred more land to the Palestinians. Obama’s seriatim withdrawals from the region created a vacuum that has led to chaos:

It’s led to chaos in Iraq, it’s increasingly leading to chaos in Afghanistan. … You’ve seen the chaos in Libya. You’ve seen the chaos spreading to other parts of North Africa as well …[U]ltimately they’re forcing this president back into the region. This is the guy who was going to get us out of these conflicts, but now he has been pulled back in, and he’s trying to do it in the most limited way possible. But this is ending up making it worse, not better, because … people are looking at these limited air strikes and saying, “This is not American power. We know what American power really looks like, and this isn’t it.” This is a cosmetic show of force that ultimately shows you’re not truly committed … and this has undermined our credibility with Jordan, with the Saudis, with the Egyptians, with others.

The Iran deal is the culmination of a policy of intentional retreat — one that sent troops to Afghanistan with a pre-established time limit and a speech reminding soldiers that the country the president really wanted to build was his own; and an Oval Office address announcing an end of our combat mission in Iraq by emphasizing — in the first paragraph — “the need to rebuild our nation here at home.” In his testimony this week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kenneth Pollack of The Brookings Institution stated that every U.S. ally in the region fears that “the United States plans to use the [Iran deal] to justify further disengagement from the region,” by treating the deal as a “get out of the Middle East free card”:

That a war-weary and “Middle East-weary” U.S. administration will point to the JCPOA and say, “See, we removed the greatest threat to U.S. interests and allies in the Middle East, so now we can afford to step back from the region even more than we already have.” I fear that the JCPOA will justify another “pivot to Asia,” which as best as I can tell was nothing more than an excuse for pivoting away from the Middle East, with demonstrably catastrophic consequences in Iraq and elsewhere.

Michael Singh of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy testified at the same hearing that the U.S. objective has never been simply to conclude a nuclear agreement with Iran, because a deal is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The deal looks like “a significant strategic reversal” by the United States — one that is:

accommodating Iranian nuclear expansion after years of opposing it, lifting sanctions on Iran after years of expanding them, and facilitating Iran’s financial and diplomatic reintegration into the international community after years of seeking to isolate it. These actions stand in opposition to longstanding U.S. strategy in the Middle East … [and] inevitably leads allies to conclude either that our commitment to that strategy and to the region itself is diminished, or that we are embarking on a broader strategic realignment.

The Iran deal reflects a secret strategy that dare not speak its name, because it reflects the twin approaches that created the catastrophe of the twentieth century: appeasement and isolationism, this time masked by slogans (leading from behind, pivoting to somewhere else, building our strength at home, etc.), false assurances on the order of you-can-keep-your-plan-if-you-like-it (your sanctions can “snap back,” we’ll have “unprecedented” inspections, all options will remain “on the table”), and a strategic realignment that treats Iran as a stabilizing force in the region that will fight ISIS and al Qaeda for us while we leave.

A policy of American retreat, had it been forthrightly professed by Obama in 2012, would never have led to his re-election. He presented a very different position during the campaign from the one he pursued as soon as he could be more flexible. In the October 22, 2012, presidential debate on foreign policy, Obama promised that Iran would face a choice: “They can take the diplomatic route and end their nuclear program or they will have to face a united world and a United States president, me, who said we’re not going to take any options off the table” (emphasis added). He had an exchange with the debate moderator that could not have been more explicit:

SCHIEFFER: … What is the deal that you would accept, Mr. President?

OBAMA: … our goal is to get Iran to recognize it needs to give up its nuclear program and abide by the UN resolutions that have been in place. … [T]he deal we’ll accept is they end their nuclear program. It’s very straightforward. [Emphasis added].

The deal currently before the Congress does not end Iran’s program, but rather approves it, subject to temporary limits. It abandons the UN resolutions in place and substitutes one that will leave Iran with nuclear-weapons capability and a breakout time of virtually zero, even assuming the deal is upheld in every detail. It gives Iran space and legitimacy to work on the ballistic missiles necessary to deliver its eventual weapons, and just in time for the end of the deal. It allows Iran to re-arm itself with conventional weapons in the meantime and provides the financial resources to stabilize a despicable regime and assist its allies. It is the ultimate U.S. withdrawal, the recognition of a new hegemon to replace America, the abandonment of allies in the region in favor of a separate peace that enables the U.S. to go home.

Is this what the American people want? What will they say to their representatives, who are now coming home from Washington for a month, before they return for a historic September debate that will be about more than PMDs, centrifuge numbers, managed access, and various other arcane details. The real issue is: are we willing to be fundamentally transformed? What kind of country do we want to be?

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Must the Trump Factor Sink Rubio?

Tonight’s Republican presidential debates on Fox News mark what we may consider the end of the preliminary phase of the race. From this point forward, the candidates will begin to be judged more on what they do and say then on our expectations about them or fundraising totals. The six months that follow will constitute the next phase of the campaign during which we can expect the debates to play a decisive role as they lead up to the moment in February when the actual voting starts. That means we must concede that the candidates have yet to begin to really fight, but still acknowledge that some of them have been spending a lot of money and expending a great deal of efforts to get nowhere. The prime example of this is probably Senator Marco Rubio. He got off to a strong start when he announced during the spring only to see all his momentum halted and his poll numbers revert to where they were before he declared once the Donald Trump factor began to be felt. Some have already begun to question if Rubio’s hopes have been fatally damaged by the aftershocks of the Trump effort. But while there are plenty of reasons for Rubio’s backers to be worried, we won’t know whether such concerns are justified until the first debates are held, and voters begin to judge the candidates on more than just the amount of media coverage they generate.

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Tonight’s Republican presidential debates on Fox News mark what we may consider the end of the preliminary phase of the race. From this point forward, the candidates will begin to be judged more on what they do and say then on our expectations about them or fundraising totals. The six months that follow will constitute the next phase of the campaign during which we can expect the debates to play a decisive role as they lead up to the moment in February when the actual voting starts. That means we must concede that the candidates have yet to begin to really fight, but still acknowledge that some of them have been spending a lot of money and expending a great deal of efforts to get nowhere. The prime example of this is probably Senator Marco Rubio. He got off to a strong start when he announced during the spring only to see all his momentum halted and his poll numbers revert to where they were before he declared once the Donald Trump factor began to be felt. Some have already begun to question if Rubio’s hopes have been fatally damaged by the aftershocks of the Trump effort. But while there are plenty of reasons for Rubio’s backers to be worried, we won’t know whether such concerns are justified until the first debates are held, and voters begin to judge the candidates on more than just the amount of media coverage they generate.

Byron York was dead right when he wrote earlier this week in the Washington Examiner that Rubio has been sliding in the polls since he was in second place back in May. Heading into the first debate, he’s now in seventh place in the Real Clear Politics average about where he was when he announced. The problem is that Trumpmania has not only deprived him of attention the way it has all the other candidates but that the rise of the reality star has helped solidify Jeb Bush as the moderate/establishment alternative. Since Bush and Rubio are competing for votes in the GOP center as well as for support in their shared home state of Florida, the focus on the former as the leading alternative to Trump hurts the latter. If, as York says, Rubio is perceived as Bush lite, he’s bound to be shunted aside as superfluous to the effort to prevent Trump from actually seizing control of the GOP.

As York concedes, Rubio could turn this trend around. Assuming that poll results in early August can tell us what will happen next winter or spring is absurd. Moreover, once the candidates begin to be judged on their performances in competitive forums, Rubio’s rhetorical talents, charismatic personality, positive vision and command of the issues could catapult him to victory or at least back into the first tier. He can also count on Bush’s propensity for gaffes (such as his latest ill-conceived, if taken out of context, line about funding women’s health) convincing many mainstream Republicans that they need to find a better alternative if they want to stop Trump.

The whole point of Rubio’s candidacy has always centered on a belief that the magic of his appeal, both in terms of his life story and his ability to project a Reaganesque vision, was more important than his slim resume and comparative youth. That hope may wither in the heat of the debates and the stress of the campaign trail but if the GOP establishment expects to stop Trump they need to consider that merely trotting out the gentlemanly moderation of Jeb Bush isn’t going to electrify an electorate that wants more than a plausible and smart candidate.

The conceit of the Trump boomlet is rooted in the fact that many on the right believe that what their party needs is a fighter who isn’t afraid to speak out and challenge liberal assumptions. Trump isn’t a coherent or dependable spokesman for conservative ideas. Nor is he remotely plausible as a commander-in-chief or as someone who knows enough about politics to run the government in a system where you can’t just fire people you don’t like. But his supporters aren’t wrong when they see a problem in nominating a candidate who seems unlikely to be willing to mix it up with the Democrats in a way that will satisfy their desire to attack their foes. Bush’s lack of comfort in hitting the Clintons hard as well as his occasional gaffes make them think he is just another Mitt Romney.

Rubio may well find himself squeezed out of a real chance to win by circumstances beyond his control. Bush’s financial resources and name ensure he will always be in the first tier, leaving the junior senator from Florida without enough of a base to get back into the race in a meaningful way.

Yet if the first phase of the presidential race has taught us anything, it is that conventional wisdom and conventional tactics won’t be enough to stop Trump or beat the Democrats. Rubio offers one possible alternative to the Romney scenario. The crowded debate stage may not work out to his advantage, and it’s possible to envision a scenario where he never makes it to the Florida primary, a contest that most of us assume will be make or break for Bush and Rubio. But if center-right and establishment Republicans do wind up rejecting Rubio they had better be prepared to find someone other than Bush to be the anti-Trump that will be willing to fight for both the nomination and the future of the country.

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The Backlash to Obama’s Cuban Thaw Begins

Talk to any Beltway insider and they’ll tell you that President Barack Obama’s administration is on the right side of history in its quest to implement a thaw in relations with communist Cuba. What’s more, they’ll provide the poll numbers that support this assertion. Despite the fact that this island prison nation remains an anachronistic Soviet vassal that continues to harbor fugitives from American justice, Gallup polling since 1999 has shown the public favors establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. Nationally, it’s true that Americans of all political persuasions no longer see the value in maintaining a Cold War posture toward the Cuban regime. In the electorally crucial state of Florida, however, the story is dramatically different. Read More

Talk to any Beltway insider and they’ll tell you that President Barack Obama’s administration is on the right side of history in its quest to implement a thaw in relations with communist Cuba. What’s more, they’ll provide the poll numbers that support this assertion. Despite the fact that this island prison nation remains an anachronistic Soviet vassal that continues to harbor fugitives from American justice, Gallup polling since 1999 has shown the public favors establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. Nationally, it’s true that Americans of all political persuasions no longer see the value in maintaining a Cold War posture toward the Cuban regime. In the electorally crucial state of Florida, however, the story is dramatically different.

Initially, the Cuban-American community in Florida appeared inclined to be split on the issue of opening bilateral relations with Cuba. In fact, Cuban-Americans were initially hostile toward Obama’s proposal. In December of 2014, 48 percent of Cuban-Americans polled by Bendixen & Amandi International disapproved of opening relations with Havana while 44 percent approved. By March, however, a narrow majority of Cuban-Americans polled by the same firm had warmed to the notion of a thaw with Cuba. Public pollsters testing the same issue noted that younger Cuban-Americans regarded Washington’s hostility toward Havana as a vestigial relic of a bygone era. The future, Obama’s supporters contended, belonged to them.

But there were indications that the Cuban-American community is still not monolithically enthralled by the project of normalization. “Only one-quarter of Cuban-Americans said they had plans to visit Cuba,” National Journal reported when parsing Bendixen & Amandi International’s March survey. “Almost three-quarters said they wouldn’t be interested in investing in Cuba should it become legal to do so, many citing mistrust of Havana or willful boycott of the Castro brothers.”

“Respondents living in Florida, where the Cuban-American population is concentrated, were less willing to endorse the policy shift, with only 41 percent agreeing with the White House,” that report continued. “That’s in stark contrast to the rest of the country, where Cuban-Americans agreed 3-to-1 that the United States and Cuba should share closer ties.”

This sentiment was observable in the behavior of Florida’s legislature, which expressed strong reservations about the prospect of normalizing relations with Cuba. In April, Florida’s House and Senate adopted identical resolutions opposing the normalization of relations with Cuba and the opening of any Cuban diplomatic office in that state. Again, the Florida legislature seemed to observers in Washington to be behind the times. The state’s residents approved of the opening of relations with Cuba, after all, and the Sunshine State’s business community had long been cultivating relationships with their Cuban counterparts.

But politicians closest to a given issue do occasionally have their finger on the pulse; at least, better than do those in the pundit class. The latest canary in the mine to pass on to oblivion amid spastic, gasping contortions is impossible to ignore. This week, Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, issued a stinging rebuke of the president’s Cuba policy.

“I believe a relationship with the United States should be earned,” Wasserman Schultz told reporters with The Heritage Foundation’s The Daily Signal. “[P]erhaps we should make sure that some of these human rights concessions are secured prior to moving forward.”

She added, however, that she believed Obama’s approach to bilateral relations with Cuba could, in the long run, benefit the Cuban people by providing the United States with more negotiating leverage. It might also create a more advantageous position for America to advocate for a liberalization of Cuba’s human rights policies.

“Anytime we’re at the negotiating table with any nation like Cuba that has as horrendous a human rights record as they do, it’s an opportunity to be able to assert our view that making sure that any nation in the world should have freedom of their elections, that people should have the right to elect a person of their choice, that they should be able to speak freely, even if it is against the actions of their government and not be subject to arrest, that they should be able to make sure they can move freely throughout their country,” she said. “So President Obama’s policy allows us to be able to press those priorities at the negotiating table.”

Republicans like Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who has made opposition to normalization of relations with Cuba the centerpiece of their Sunshine State strategy, might not be waging so quixotic a fight after all. Rubio, who called Obama’s series of “one-sided concessions” toward Cuba a display of “weakness” that the Castro brothers would undoubtedly exploit, can now claim that his apprehension toward normalization is a sensible, bipartisan approach. Even if Rubio fails to secure the GOP’s presidential nomination, Republican opposition to rewarding Cuba for bad behavior doesn’t seem to be the obvious electoral loser that many in the commentary class assumed it was.

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Communists Don’t Like Him? NY Times Gives Rubio Candidacy More Help

Do the publishers of the New York Times secretly want Marco Rubio to be elected president? The answer to that question is, of course not. The left-wing and partisan Democratic slant of the Grey Lady’s news coverage (not to mention its equally biased and partisan editorial page) in recent years places Rubio squarely in the category of a candidate the paper wishes to stop at all costs. Hence, the series of background stories about Cruz that bore the unmistakable trademarks of hit pieces intended to chip away at his image. But unfortunately for the Times, their previous stories on Rubio— which focused on the speeding tickets he and his wife had received or the fishing boat that was wrongly labeled a “luxury speed boat” — generated an unintended reaction. It wasn’t just that the tickets reinforced his youthful image. The focus on trivial charges was viewed as biased journalism that generated sympathy for the Rubio candidacy among Republicans and seemed to validate his status as a candidate liberals feared. But whatever the ultimate intentions of those who make decisions at the Times, their latest installment in the category of Rubio hit pieces is likely to produce the same result. By publishing a piece that focused on the reactions to Rubio’s candidacy in Cuba from the communist government’s functionaries or ordinary people whose only knowledge of the senator is from Castro regime propaganda, the Times has once again given him an unwitting boost.

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Do the publishers of the New York Times secretly want Marco Rubio to be elected president? The answer to that question is, of course not. The left-wing and partisan Democratic slant of the Grey Lady’s news coverage (not to mention its equally biased and partisan editorial page) in recent years places Rubio squarely in the category of a candidate the paper wishes to stop at all costs. Hence, the series of background stories about Cruz that bore the unmistakable trademarks of hit pieces intended to chip away at his image. But unfortunately for the Times, their previous stories on Rubio— which focused on the speeding tickets he and his wife had received or the fishing boat that was wrongly labeled a “luxury speed boat” — generated an unintended reaction. It wasn’t just that the tickets reinforced his youthful image. The focus on trivial charges was viewed as biased journalism that generated sympathy for the Rubio candidacy among Republicans and seemed to validate his status as a candidate liberals feared. But whatever the ultimate intentions of those who make decisions at the Times, their latest installment in the category of Rubio hit pieces is likely to produce the same result. By publishing a piece that focused on the reactions to Rubio’s candidacy in Cuba from the communist government’s functionaries or ordinary people whose only knowledge of the senator is from Castro regime propaganda, the Times has once again given him an unwitting boost.

As I wrote last month about the previous Rubio stories in the Times, anyone who runs for president should and ought to expect intense scrutiny. Given the mindset of the liberal mainstream media, that sort of attention is going to be disproportionate if you’re a Republican rather than, say, someone whose last name is Clinton. But the more the Times attacks Rubio, the more likely it is that the Republican voters he needs in order to win the nomination will view him as someone they trust. The Cuba article only reinforces that point.

The conceit of the piece was to probe the reaction of Cubans to the possibility that the son of a couple that fled the island for a better life in the 1950s might be elected president. The responses were entirely predictable. While the Obama administration has decided to re-open a U.S. embassy in Havana as part of a historic rapprochement, the repressive nature of the Castro regime is unchanged. As I wrote last week, though President Obama think U.S.-Cuba policy should not be “imprisoned by the past,” the Communist rulers of the nation have no compunction about jailing dissidents, including prominent artists who speak out for human rights and democracy. Thus, the idea that either ordinary Cubans or government officials speaking on the record would do anything but echo the Communist party line about Rubio is absurd. A Cuban-American like Rubio who has spent his career advocating for Cuban freedom rather than détente with tyrants is always going to be denounced by any resident of the island nation who wants to stay out of jail.

Thus, the predictable denunciations of Rubio by those interviewed by the Times as an “enemy” of the Cuban people “who wants to kill us” ought to be taken with a truckload of salt. But as, Rubio indicated both in his comments to the Times as well as on Twitter after the piece ran, he’s proud that the regime views him as a threat to its continued rule. He rightly pointed out that the rote recitations of regime talking points the Times recorded and dutifully published merely reflects the truth of what he has been asserting about the unchanged nature of life in Cuba. Despite President Obama’s confidence that his engagement with the Castros will open up a new chapter of history, the only thing we can be sure of is that the regime and its supporters will profit from the move and the Cuban people will remain silenced. Moreover, does anyone at the Times think such barbs thrown at Rubio from regime operatives harms his chances of the presidency or diminishes his popularity among Cuban-Americans who largely share his views on the subject? Do they think it helps mobilize more support for President Obama’s proposal to end the embargo on Cuba?

But, as with the other hit pieces on Rubio, there is another unintended benefit to Rubio. Even as Times reporter Jason Horowitz collected attack quotes on the senator wherever he went, he also crafted a narrative that shows just how humble Rubio’s origins truly are. The notion that the son and grandson of working class Cubans could be president of the United States is a “storybook” scenario that awes even those who have been instructed to denounce Rubio. Just as the Times’s focus on Rubio’s supposed flaws (a youthful love of fast cars and a desire to get ahead) makes him more appealing, so, too, do stories that validate his “only in America” life story. Though Rubio tweeted about the Times story with the ironic hashtag #nicetry, he really ought to be encouraging them to do more of these. A few more such “negative” stories is exactly what he needs as he seeks to maintain his standing as a first tier Republican candidate with fierce competition.

 

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The New York Times Targets Marco Rubio and Misses… Again

What is the New York Times doing? In the space of a week, the paper has published no fewer than two exposés on the Florida senator running for the presidency that amount to veritable in-kind contributions to Marco Rubio’s campaign. Though these dubious investigations have prompted reliably credulous pundits to gasp in horror, it’s unclear that they will have any negative effect on Rubio’s presidential prospects. Quite the opposite, in fact; by overshooting Rubio’s bow on two separate occasions, the Times risks making one of the GOP’s brightest prospects a target of sympathy among precisely the voters to whom he needs to appeal in order to win his party’s presidential nomination. Read More

What is the New York Times doing? In the space of a week, the paper has published no fewer than two exposés on the Florida senator running for the presidency that amount to veritable in-kind contributions to Marco Rubio’s campaign. Though these dubious investigations have prompted reliably credulous pundits to gasp in horror, it’s unclear that they will have any negative effect on Rubio’s presidential prospects. Quite the opposite, in fact; by overshooting Rubio’s bow on two separate occasions, the Times risks making one of the GOP’s brightest prospects a target of sympathy among precisely the voters to whom he needs to appeal in order to win his party’s presidential nomination.

The Times’ vetting of Rubio began late last week with an enticing tale of crass negligence on the roadways. The Times discovered that the Rubios were profligate scofflaws when it came to traffic violations. That’s right: speeding tickets. Marco Rubio, we learned, had received all of four moving violations over the course of nearly two decades. That’s hardly a story, and it would not have even made it to print had Rubio’s wife, Janette, not received 13 similar violations since 1997. The presidential candidate even hired a lawyer to try to get those violations expunged from his record and took a banal defensive driving course in order to reduce associated insurance penalties.

This is hardly the stuff that makes the Pulitzer board giddy, but it was not poor reporting. Every candidate for the White House deserves a through vetting, and the Times was well within its mission to print this information. But the political impact of the decision to dig into the Rubios driving records was perhaps not what they had anticipated.

The Washington Free Beacon’s Bret Scher soon revealed that no Times reporter had personally pulled the Rubios’ driving records from Miami-Dade court files, but a Democratic opposition research group recently had. When the Times was asked about whether or not they relied on a tip from a partisan research group for this story – a not uncommon practice, and one which would not have raised many eyebrows – the Times PR shop steadfastly refused to answer the question posed by a reporter with an outwardly conservative news site and instead provided Scher’s answer to Politico reporter Dylan Byers. If nothing untoward had occurred here, the Times certainly wasn’t acting like it.

What’s more, the dragging of a candidates’ spouse into the vetting process, particularly this early in the campaign, does raise ethical matters. For Democrats who of late have convinced themselves that women are routinely subjected to scrutiny otherwise not applied to men, the left has been curiously quiet about the Times decision to target Janette Rubio. Finally, as Jonathan Tobin noted, this story’s impact on the general electorate, much less GOP primary voters, is probably one that Marco Rubio would welcome. It projects youth and vitality (the elderly seldom speed or, in the Clintons’ case, drive at all). What’s more, the story stood as an indication that the former speaker of the Florida House declined to use his influence to hide or get out of these violations.

Almost everyone has been ticketed once or twice in their life, and that minor tribulation is a relatable hardship. Nevertheless, some in the pundit class took the bait. While most rightly dismissed the story, a handful of observers wondered if the GOP had suddenly become the party of lawlessness on our taxpayer-funded roadways. On Tuesday, the New York Times took a deeper dive into the Rubios records. This time, they dug into the couple’s financial history. As evidenced by the overwrought prose, the paper’s editors apparently thought that the details they uncovered could potentially disqualify Rubio from holding high office.

In the Times’ latest unflattering profile, they reveal that the 44-year-old Marco Rubio, a father of four, was not the most frugal parent in his mid-to-late 30s. The Times revealed that the Miami-area resident “splurged” on an $80,000 motorboat that he had always dreamed of owning. Manhattan-based reporters who feign shock at the notion that someone would take a defensive driving class at the request of their insurer might perhaps also be surprised to learn that $80,000 is a modest price for a luxury sea craft. The story goes on: Rubio used his own credit card to pay for campaign expenses. He liquidated a nearly $70,000 retirement account, incurring $24,000 in taxes and penalties, presumably to cover personal expenses. He sold a Florida home for an $18,000 loss after nearly facing foreclosure when he failed to meet the mortgage for five months.

The Times noted that the Rubios have largely righted their financial ship after the Florida senator began to earn substantial sums from writing and selling books. The couple has begun saving for college tuition for thier children, refinanced their home, now have six figures in savings, and even donated $60,000 to charity. Finally, after Rubio’s finances had recovered, they leased a $50,000 Audi. “Experts” who spoke with the Times call this and other decisions “imprudent.”

Predictably, some in the pundit class reacted with theatrically disproportionate astonishment.

“So, is the Rubio argument I wasn’t good at handling my personal finances, but put me in charge of trillions of dollars of others money?” ABC News contributor Matthew Dowd fretted.

“An impulsive, reckless spender who blurs ethical lines,” the National Journal’s Ron Fournier scoffed. “How does this reflect how @marcorubio would lead as POTUS?”

“I’m a bit baffled by the argument that personal fiduciary responsibility is unimportant to the job of being president,” The Washington Post’s Phillip Bump opined.

These and other columnists aghast at the Rubios behavior might be surprised to learn that the power of the purse is the constitutional responsibility of the legislative branch. The fact that the Rubios stretched their finances and, yes, treated themselves on occasion is not something to scold them over. If their behavior is to be condemned, so is that of the vast majority of the American middle class who behaves similarly in order to provide for their family’s immediate needs and desires.

When it comes to his personal finances, no one is claiming that Rubio acted in an unethical or mendacious manner. “I’m not poor,” Rubio once said, “but I’m not rich, either.” Contrast this comment with that of Hillary Clinton who exactly one year ago today declared that she and her husband were “dead broke” when they left the White House in 2001; a claim at odds with the fact that the former first family earned $12 million in that year alone.

Again, the pundit class is missing the likely political effect of the Times’ hit on the Rubios. The tale of a young family struggling to make ends meet and, on a handful of occasions, spending beyond their means in order to enjoy a bit of the good life is a common story. If anything, the New York Times has made Rubio more understandable to both average Americans and to those Republican primary voters who are deeply suspicious of the Grey Lady’s motives.

The New York Times seems to think that the Rubios profligacy when they were younger contradicts the senator’s present message of fiscal restraint on the macro level, but this is a tendentious contention. If anything, the Times has helped to craft a financial contrast with Hillary Clinton that will only benefit him if he were to emerge the GOP’s presidential nominee. What’s more, the impression that the talented Republican figure is the subject of reportorial persecution, even if that is an unfounded belief, will likely yield some sympathy from GOP primary voters.

The Rubios should send reporters in the New York Times newsroom a thank you card. That is, if they can afford the expense. The “newspaper of record” has done the senator’s campaign a great service.

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Jeb Bush 2016 Frontrunner Blues

The Jeb Bush juggernaut took another public relations hit this week as stories surfaced of a shakeup in his campaign team. After a few months in which Bush seemed to be stumbling, the former Florida governor has reshuffled his staff putting in place a new supposedly more aggressive campaign manager. Though this is not to be compared to the complete collapse of Ben Carson’s operations, it is still the sort of inside politics story that undermines the basic conceit of Bush’s campaign: that he is the frontrunner who will inevitably win the nomination. Some of his opponents, like Governor Scott Walker, want us to keep thinking of Bush as the top dog leaving space for other first-tier candidates to have room to maneuver. But it appears that even Bush’s camp now accepts that he can’t win the nomination by dominating fundraising or garnering establishment endorsements. While neither this development or other recent stumbles necessarily precludes his ultimate victory, a new tough campaign staff is no substitute for the thing that really seems to be lacking in his effort so far: a reason why he should be president other than it being his turn.

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The Jeb Bush juggernaut took another public relations hit this week as stories surfaced of a shakeup in his campaign team. After a few months in which Bush seemed to be stumbling, the former Florida governor has reshuffled his staff putting in place a new supposedly more aggressive campaign manager. Though this is not to be compared to the complete collapse of Ben Carson’s operations, it is still the sort of inside politics story that undermines the basic conceit of Bush’s campaign: that he is the frontrunner who will inevitably win the nomination. Some of his opponents, like Governor Scott Walker, want us to keep thinking of Bush as the top dog leaving space for other first-tier candidates to have room to maneuver. But it appears that even Bush’s camp now accepts that he can’t win the nomination by dominating fundraising or garnering establishment endorsements. While neither this development or other recent stumbles necessarily precludes his ultimate victory, a new tough campaign staff is no substitute for the thing that really seems to be lacking in his effort so far: a reason why he should be president other than it being his turn.

Bush’s supporters are right when they say that his campaign hasn’t flopped during the first half of 2015. Any candidate who can raise $100 million in a few months can’t be called a failure. With that kind of cash in hand, Bush can weather any number of political storms and stay in the race long after another candidate with similar woes might be sunk. Bush hasn’t established a lead in the polls over the rest of the GOP field, but he remains at or near the top in virtually every poll even though that means he remains in the vicinity of ten percent.

Moreover, despite the lack of enthusiasm among Republicans for a third Bush presidency and the dismay about the candidate’s less-than-scintillating performance so far, he maintains a clear path to the nomination. If Bush can simply stay in the front of the pack of GOP contenders over the next several months, place in the top two or three in Iowa and then win New Hampshire, where his more moderate approach appears to be playing better than in the Hawkeye State, that will set him up nicely for the rest of the primary season. The assumption at that point is that he could then knock off former protégé Marco Rubio by beating him in Florida. If none of the other more conservative candidates are able to emerge from the pack, they will eliminate each other, and, as Mitt Romney did in 2012 as the sole moderate, Bush will cruise the rest of the way. Or at least that’s what Bush supporters hope will happen.

But with a few days to go before his official announcement, confidence in that scenario playing out in that fashion can’t be all that high. Despite some of his own stumbles, Walker appears to be ready to compete with Bush for both conservative and moderate voters. Even more threatening to Bush is the way Rubio has emerged as a possible competitor for establishment support. A race with this many serious candidates, as well as a number who aren’t all that serious, can’t be easily predicted. Moreover, Bush can’t win by merely surviving. He must be seen as the winner, or at least not the loser, in the debates. And he’s going to have to hope that none of the candidates to his right catch fire.

But more than any of that, what Bush needs to tell us next week when he announces and as he proceeds, why it is that we have to have another president with the same name. Go down the roster of GOP hopefuls and whether they are likely to win or not, all have tremendous passion and raison d’être for their candidacies. Fair or not, the impression is that Bush has been merely biding his time and now believes this is his moment. For all of the advantages his name brings him, he doesn’t have that kind of personal following. Nor, at least to date, does his campaign exhibit the passion or the pluck that characterize his competitors. That must change quickly. If it doesn’t shake off the frontrunner blues, he’ll never be able to subdue the challenges from Walker or Rubio that stand as obstacles to his scenario for victory.

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By Embracing ‘Nation-Building,’ Rubio Conveys a Hard Truth

Marco Rubio has caused a kerfuffle with his comments about nation-building on Fox News. Here is what he said: Read More

Marco Rubio has caused a kerfuffle with his comments about nation-building on Fox News. Here is what he said:

RUBIO: I think we have a responsibility to support democracy. And if a nation expresses a desire to become a democratic nation, particularly one that we invaded, I do believe that we have a responsibility to help them move in that direction. But the most immediate responsibility we have is to help them build a functional government that can actually meet the needs of the people in the short- and long-term, and that ultimately from that you would hope that would spring democracy.

FOX NEWS HOST: That sounds like nation-building.

RUBIO: <strong>Well, it’s not nation-building. We are assisting them in building their nation.</strong> We have a vested interest in doing that. The alternative to doing that is the chaos we have now. Because in fact what happened in Iraq under this administration is they rallied around [former Prime Minister Nouri al] Maliki, a Shia leader who used his power to go after Sunnis, and that created the environment that was conducive for ISIS to come back in and create all these problems.

Rubio is now being mocked by the likes of Paul Begala for essentially trying to insist on a distinction without a difference. Fair enough. Rubio was uncharacteristically clumsy in trying to dis-associate himself from the emotive phrase “nation-building,” but the bigger story here is that he was endorsing the underlying concept — and he was right to do so.

It’s too bad that “nation-building” has become such a negative term among both Republicans and Democrats — right up there with “world’s policeman,” another duty that we need to perform in our own self-interest even though nobody wants to admit it. It was precisely the nation-building that we did in Germany, Japan, Italy, and South Korea that ensured lasting victories after World War II and the Korean War. When we have failed to do “nation-building” after a war — e.g., Germany after World War I — the results, more often than not, have been disastrous.

The Bush administration learned that for itself: It came into office prejudiced against “nation-building” which Republicans wrongly viewed as a Clinton project. As a result the administration failed to prepare for nation-building in either Iraq or Afghanistan, allowing insurgencies to develop. The Obama administration repeated the same mistake in Libya where it did no nation-building after the fall of Qaddafi. The result is that Libya is now in the grip of rival militias and ISIS is gaining strength there. As Rubio rightly put it, the alternative to nation-building is chaos.

Given that reality, we shouldn’t run away from the imperative to help our allies build strong states capable of defeating terrorists and extremists—which is what nation-building is all about. We should get better at it. And getting better at it means improving our civilian capacity, not sending large numbers of troops all over the world. USAID, for example, should be retooled into a nation-building agency staffed by veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But that will never happen until we overcome our childish and ill-advised aversion to the very idea of “nation-building.”

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Marco Rubio Speeding Tickets Are Political Gold

The woods are full of presidential candidates these days. That’s a development that is not exactly being greeted with joy by most voters who may already be bored with a presidential race that has 18 months left to go. But the gaggle of candidates is good news for political reporters who are being sent out by their editors to beat the bushes for negative stories about their backgrounds. That’s certainly true of the liberal mainstream media and the GOP field. Today’s entry in what will be a long running series of investigations into their lives comes from the New York Times, which discovered, to their horror, that the junior senator from Florida likes to drive fast. As the headline on the piece reads, “Marco Rubio and His Wife Cited 17 Times for Traffic Violations.” That may shock some people, but the bet here is that, if anything, this is exactly the sort of story that will help rather than hurt Rubio.

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The woods are full of presidential candidates these days. That’s a development that is not exactly being greeted with joy by most voters who may already be bored with a presidential race that has 18 months left to go. But the gaggle of candidates is good news for political reporters who are being sent out by their editors to beat the bushes for negative stories about their backgrounds. That’s certainly true of the liberal mainstream media and the GOP field. Today’s entry in what will be a long running series of investigations into their lives comes from the New York Times, which discovered, to their horror, that the junior senator from Florida likes to drive fast. As the headline on the piece reads, “Marco Rubio and His Wife Cited 17 Times for Traffic Violations.” That may shock some people, but the bet here is that, if anything, this is exactly the sort of story that will help rather than hurt Rubio.

The story has all the detail you want if you’re a traffic court fan. Since 1997, Rubio has gotten four moving violations while his wife has gotten 13. That’s a lot, and both have been compelled to take those remedial driver’s ed classes that people with more than a couple of tickets are often sentenced to sit through. Perhaps this will incline some self-righteous observers to denounce Rubio and his wife as thoughtless or reckless. But if anyone at the Times thinks Marco Rubio’s speeding tickets will hurt his chances of being elected president, they know nothing about Americans and their feelings about cars or traffic cops. Indeed, Rubio’s tendency to push the speed limits will remind Americans of a couple of things that he would like them to associate him with.

The first is youth. Rubio is one of the youngest candidates in the race. Some have already pointed out, with good reason, that electing another youthful freshman senator to be president doesn’t sound like such a great idea. That’s especially true if you’re a Republican who has spent the last eight years denouncing Barack Obama. But Americans like the idea of a man who is about possibilities rather than the baggage of past campaigns. That, along with a strong policy record on domestic and foreign policy issues, is the whole point of the Rubio candidacy. As a recent CNN/ORC poll showed, more than any other presidential contender, he’s the one most associated with the future rather than the past. And although Americans are a rapidly aging population, which ought to make more mature candidates like Hillary Clinton and, say, Jeb Bush — more natural choices for the presidency — our culture still worships youth almost as much as it loves cars.

Let me go further and say that, while traffic safety is vitally important and speeding is a potentially dangerous activity, there’s little doubt that traffic cops are even more disliked by most Americans than politicians or journalists. We all know that the point of traffic enforcement policy today is raising revenue, not safety. If everyone who has ever driven above the speeding limit or committed some traffic infraction identifies with the image of the senator being pulled over, he has little to worry about.

But there’s another aspect to this story that helps Rubio. In recent years, Republicans candidates have been subjected to some pretty tough examinations by the mainstream liberal media. Supposedly prestigious news organizations have stooped to publishing stories that didn’t pass the smell test, but which served the purpose of smearing their characters.

In 2008, that meant a huge New York Times feature alleging an affair between Senator John McCain and a lobbyist. This thinly veiled piece of unsourced gossip trashed McCain’s reputation even though it was based on the flimsiest of evidence and didn’t stand up to scrutiny.

In 2011, the Washington Post ran a huge expose on Texas Governor Rick Perry alleging that his family owned a hunting camp with a racially offensive name even though it’s not clear that this had anything to do with Perry or that it was anything more a name on a slab of rock that had since been painted over.

In 2012, the Post subjected Mitt Romney to the indignity of a similarly extensive story that centered on a prank he and some of his friends played on another boy during high school. The incident, in which a boy who would one day declare that he was gay, got a haircut, was treated with the same gravity as stories about serial killers.

You get the picture. If you’re a Republican, expect anything in your past to be treated as a death penalty offense no matter what it might be. If you’re a Clinton, even contemporary scandals and genuine conflicts of interest involving foreign donors and national security issues, are items we should dismiss as the product of the “vast right wing conspiracy.”

So, if the worst thing they can dig up in Marco Rubio’s biography is that he and his wife have gotten multiple traffic tickets, that’s good news for his presidential prospects. It’s also a subliminal message that he’s a man with his future ahead of him and in touch with the ordinary business of life that privileged elites may have forgotten about. That’s especially true if he’s eventually matched up with a former First Lady who hasn’t sat in the front seat since the first George Bush was president. Besides, if he wins, he and his wife will never drive again. There may be better or worse reasons to vote for or against him. But, seen from that perspective, perhaps a vote for Rubio really is a vote for traffic safety.

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Marco Rubio’s Latest Coup

Marco Rubio has thus far failed to satisfactorily neutralize his primary liability ahead of the 2016 general election should he become the Republican Party’s nominee: his biographical similarities to the sitting Democratic president. Nor has he assuaged the valid concerns shared by some conservatives who saw his advocacy for and subsequent retreat from a comprehensive immigration reform bill as a debacle. In fact, the latter vulnerability reinforces the former. But there is no denying that the outgoing senator from Florida is an accomplished campaigner and a good ambassador for the Republican brand. His latest coup is one that may propel him from niche advocate for a robust American foreign policy to a candidate with a comprehensive and persuasive pitch to the presidential electorate. Read More

Marco Rubio has thus far failed to satisfactorily neutralize his primary liability ahead of the 2016 general election should he become the Republican Party’s nominee: his biographical similarities to the sitting Democratic president. Nor has he assuaged the valid concerns shared by some conservatives who saw his advocacy for and subsequent retreat from a comprehensive immigration reform bill as a debacle. In fact, the latter vulnerability reinforces the former. But there is no denying that the outgoing senator from Florida is an accomplished campaigner and a good ambassador for the Republican brand. His latest coup is one that may propel him from niche advocate for a robust American foreign policy to a candidate with a comprehensive and persuasive pitch to the presidential electorate.

The junior Senator from Florida is perhaps most widely associated with his approach to foreign affairs, but Rubio has been honing his message on domestic policy for some time. In early spring, well ahead of the latest GDP report showing that the economy shrank for the second consecutive first quarter, the Florida senator began expressing his concerns about the worryingly anemic pace of the post-recession recovery.

“There are people trying to start a small business who can’t,” Rubio told the Des Moines Register’s editors in late April. “For the first time in 35 years, small business deaths outnumber small business births. That’s the uncertainty we have. That’s why people are so insecure about today and fearful of the future. But if we change that, we’re going to have another American century.”

It was a shocking revelation, and Rubio soon began deploying it on the stump.

“You have millions of people now living paycheck to paycheck,” Rubio told an audience at the South Carolina Freedom Summit on May 9, “working hard, but one unexpected expense away from catastrophe.”

“Millions of young Americans that went to school and got a degree, but now owe thousands of dollars in student loans, and their degree didn’t lead to a job,” he added. “And for the first time in 35 years, you have more small businesses dying than being born.” Rubio attributed this unenviable condition to the fact that the U.S. and world economies were changing rapidly, but America’s leaders remained “trapped in the past.”

Rubio’s comments about the lackluster state of economic affairs resulting in the near death of the American dream were a triumph; not merely because they are true, but because they are irrefutably so. But isn’t something that is objectively true also irrefutably true, you might ask? Not if PolitiFact can help it. If the self-proclaimed fact-checking site could have found even a modestly contestable morsel in Rubio’s comment to parse, the site’s pedants would have gotten to work dismantling it and affixing “half” or “mostly” to Rubio’s “true” claim. They could not.

Rubio’s contention originated with Brookings Institution researchers who refused to refute their own findings for PolitiFact. “It’s true,” said Robert Litan, one of the authors of the report that noted the U.S. economy has “steadily become less dynamic” since the 2008 financial crash. “We haven’t reversed this yet.”

“The change didn’t happen in the past year or two — it occurred in 2008 — but in general, Rubio has accurately cited a statistic from a respected think tank’s report,” PolitiFact’s Louis Jacobson conceded begrudgingly. “The co-author of that report said he feels Rubio has stated the claim accurately.”

To illustrate just how difficult of a concession this must have been, examine some of the recent checking of Rubio’s facts in which PolitiFact has engaged.

“We have a legal immigration system in America that accepts 1 million people a year, legally,” Rubio told the editors at National Review on May 1. “No other country in the world even comes close to that.” While reviewing this objectively true statement, PolitiFact conceded that it was accurate “in sheer numbers.” However, “in per capita rates, the United States place 19th out of 24 countries.” PolitiFact might have taken issue with the fact that Rubio had rounded up for the year 2013 when America took in slightly less than 1 million new citizens. Instead, they sought to wholly undermine his assertion by reducing that figure to “a percentage of the population.” Of course, since America has 320 million residents to New Zealand’s 4.5 million, an influx of 1 million newcomers doesn’t seem all that great, now does it?

“Mostly true.”

Or take the bone PolitiFact’s picked with this contention: “Inflation-adjusted defense spending has declined 21 percent since 2010 and even if we discount the draw downs in Iraq and Afghanistan it has still declined by a dangerous 12 percent,” Rubio said on the floor of the U.S. Senate in March. But Rubio left out important context.

Todd Harrison, senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and the report’s author, said Rubio correctly used his analysis as adjusted for inflation. But while it’s a matter of interpretation whether defense spending should go up, Rubio is lacking context, Harrison said. Today’s military has a little more than half the troops it had in Korea or Vietnam, and it’s relatively normal for spending to decrease this way as wars end.

But that’s the problem. The war in Iraq didn’t end, as evidenced by the fact that America is now engaged in air combat and advisory missions in Iraq and now Syria. Combat operations ceased and American troops were withdrawn, but the war didn’t end. The rise of an ugly terror group that is now the richest in history and controls a swath of territory about the size of Great Britain in which it has reinstituted slavery, conducts genocide, and erases human heritage is testament to this policy failure. But all that is beside the point. What we’re talking about are numbers, right? And you might think that Rubio’s math is airtight. Wrong. “Experts we talked to said while the conclusion is correct, Rubio doesn’t put the decrease in context of the historic high funding from 2010,” PolitiFact declared.

“Mostly true.”

In this context, Rubio’s incontrovertibly accurate comment about the negative rate of the growth of new small businesses is even more persuasive. The Florida senator’s consistent ability to acquit himself commendably and to not embarrass the party he represents might be one reason why he has emerged as a formidable force in both the visible and invisible primaries.

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Rubio’s Warning on Faith Wasn’t a Gaffe

As far as the many on the left are concerned, Senator Marco Rubio’s comments about the possible implications of the acceptance of gay marriage makes more opposition research about the 2016 Republican presidential contender unnecessary. By telling an interviewer for the Christian Broadcast Network that he believed that “we are at the water’s edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech,” he supplied liberals with the sort of fodder they used to confirm their stereotypes about rabid, scare-mongering conservatives. If Rubio becomes the Republican nominee, expect this quote to be constantly thrown in his face as confirmation of his bigotry against gays. But while no one can halt the left-wing hate machine from operating in this fashion, it’s important to state now before the quote becomes the stuff of left-wing legend, that not only was it not a gaffe, it was a reasonable statement of fact that serious people on the left, as well as the right, should ponder in its entirely.

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As far as the many on the left are concerned, Senator Marco Rubio’s comments about the possible implications of the acceptance of gay marriage makes more opposition research about the 2016 Republican presidential contender unnecessary. By telling an interviewer for the Christian Broadcast Network that he believed that “we are at the water’s edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech,” he supplied liberals with the sort of fodder they used to confirm their stereotypes about rabid, scare-mongering conservatives. If Rubio becomes the Republican nominee, expect this quote to be constantly thrown in his face as confirmation of his bigotry against gays. But while no one can halt the left-wing hate machine from operating in this fashion, it’s important to state now before the quote becomes the stuff of left-wing legend, that not only was it not a gaffe, it was a reasonable statement of fact that serious people on the left, as well as the right, should ponder in its entirely.

Let’s start by conceding, as Rubio clearly does, that the culture of the country has shifted on gay marriage. Where only a few years ago, even liberal Democrats like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were opposing it, now acceptance of it is on its way to becoming close to a consensus issue. But the question Rubio raises is not a frivolous one or scaremongering.

As we saw with the massive overreaction to the debate over Indiana’s passage of its own version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the culture shift did not stop at mere approval of gay marriages. The opprobrium being hurled at isolated individual store owners who state their religious-based opposition to the concept even if they are willing to provide service and courtesy to those with whom they disagree, is a dangerous sign. We have gone in almost a blink of an eye from such views being mainstream to them being marginalized.

That isn’t the problem. The problem is if those who stick to their religious beliefs about social issues stop being treated as a minority whose views deserve respect to one in which they are, as Rubio says, being treated as no longer deserving legal protection.

As we saw with the debate over the Hobby Lobby case, one didn’t have to agree with opponents of birth control or abortion-inducing drugs to realize that when we compel people to subsidize practices that violate their beliefs we are promoting a new cribbed view of the First Amendment that undermines the concept of religious liberty. If such views are only permissible inside a church or the home but no longer in the public square, then what we will only have is liberty for religious beliefs that are popular and none for those that are not.

Critics of Rubio mock his fears by pointing to the fact that Massachusetts has had gay marriage for years without anyone shutting down Catholic churches in the Bay state. That’s true, but Catholic charities have been driven out of adoption services. If we get to the point where clergy that will not perform gay marriages are viewed as practicing discrimination — something that is no longer unimaginable — then faiths that dissent on the practice will begin to be subjected to the sort of official discrimination that will give the lie to any talk of live and let live.

It would be wrong for anyone to pretend that we are at such a point now. Indeed, as Santorum noted, we are at “the water’s edge” of viewing such traditional beliefs as beyond the pale, is a reasoned debate by which we can accept the will of the majority on gay marriage while leaving room in the public square for those who believe this contradicts their faith and values.

Is that possible? To judge by the mob mentality that forced Brendan Eich out of his CEO job at Mozilla and the way Indiana was ostracized after its RFRA was passed, maybe not. Liberals don’t want to just win the culture war, as their treatment of stray Christian bakers and photographers who dissent on gay marriage indicates, they are not interested in taking prisoners.

That’s a trend that should scare all people of faith, as well as those who do not believe. Though Rubio will take a beating on this from the left and be cheered by social conservatives, his thoughtful and unprejudiced approach to the issue actually stands up to scrutiny in a way that ought to serve to start a productive discussion about how intolerance can come from the left as easily as the right. The illiberal and nature of the attack on religious conservatives ought to give pause to many on the left who once rightly condemned the marginalization of those on their side of such issues. Perhaps by demonstrating, at least to those who are willing to listen rather than merely engage in ad hominem attacks, that this is about freedom rather than bigotry, the senator has given us a chance to have a reasonable discussion about an issue on which tolerance and reason has always been in short supply.

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Who’s Winning the Foreign Policy Primary?

Nothing that happens this far in advance of the first primary and caucus state votes cast next year can be considered decisive but at least one element of the Republican presidential race was clarified this week if not settled. While the scrum of GOP candidates has yet to sort itself out into frontrunners and obvious also-rans, on the question of foreign policy we did get some answers about who was and was not ready for prime time. Jeb Bush’s perplexing series of stumbles in response to obvious foreign policy queries did nothing to advance his cause. At the same time, Senator Marco Rubio gave an outstanding speech at the Council of Foreign Relations that made it seem as if he was the experienced candidate ready to govern and his onetime mentor Bush was the novice. Meanwhile Senator Rand Paul also used Bush’s stumble to highlight his divergence from traditional Republican views about defense and foreign policy. At least for the moment, it seems as if the real foreign policy primary will be between the competing visions of Rubio and Paul while the rest of the field, doesn’t seem to be quite up to speed on the most important aspect of any president’s job.

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Nothing that happens this far in advance of the first primary and caucus state votes cast next year can be considered decisive but at least one element of the Republican presidential race was clarified this week if not settled. While the scrum of GOP candidates has yet to sort itself out into frontrunners and obvious also-rans, on the question of foreign policy we did get some answers about who was and was not ready for prime time. Jeb Bush’s perplexing series of stumbles in response to obvious foreign policy queries did nothing to advance his cause. At the same time, Senator Marco Rubio gave an outstanding speech at the Council of Foreign Relations that made it seem as if he was the experienced candidate ready to govern and his onetime mentor Bush was the novice. Meanwhile Senator Rand Paul also used Bush’s stumble to highlight his divergence from traditional Republican views about defense and foreign policy. At least for the moment, it seems as if the real foreign policy primary will be between the competing visions of Rubio and Paul while the rest of the field, doesn’t seem to be quite up to speed on the most important aspect of any president’s job.

As I wrote earlier this week, the grilling of Bush about Iraq and the legacy of his brother George W. wasn’t the discussion Republicans needed to have. But as Bush fumbled various responses, he seemed unprepared for questions to which he should have had a ready response. The point wasn’t that his various answers were wrong. Rather, it was the impression that didn’t seem to have command of foreign policy issues at his fingertips and his political skills had grown rusty in the 13 years since he last ran for office.

By contrast, Rubio’s foreign policy address was both eloquent and to the point as he gave voice to a coherent worldview about the need for American strength and vision. In a GOP field that is long on domestic issue strength but short on foreign policy expertise, Rubio’s command of the issue proved he was not merely competent but head and shoulders above the competition. That seemed especially true during a week when in addition to Bush’s troubles, one of their leading competitors, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, was in Israel for his first trip to the country. He was, he said, there to listen, but his main goal seemed to be to avoid the press overhearing any gaffes like the ones he made during his trip to London earlier this year. Walker was shielded from press scrutiny and questions the entire time he was in Israel. Even the press-shy Hillary Clinton provided more transparency this week than Walker.

As for Rubio, he was both optimistic about the power of American exceptionalism and aware of the serious nature of the threats facing the country. Rubio provided an in-depth of the failures of the Obama administration on issues like Iran, Israel, Russia and China. But this was more than just the usual litany of complaints about the last six years. His three pillared approach to the challenges of the future — military strength, protecting the economy against nations like Russia and China that seek to threaten the free flow of international trade and standing up for the nation’s core values — illustrated his nuanced understanding of the challenges facing the nation. The Rubio doctrine was not just about flexing America’s muscles and stopping the apologies and appeasement that have characterized the Obama years but is based on a positive vision of why American strength is essential the preservation of peace and prosperity.

But it must be admitted that Rubio wasn’t the only Republican candidate scoring points on foreign policy this week. Senator Rand Paul has been on the defense on foreign affairs for much of the past year. With ISIS on the rise and the Islamist terror threat growing in danger Paul has been eager to shed his well-earned reputation as an isolationist. But Bush’s inability to escape the Iraq War trap gave Paul an easy target. The Kentucky senator hasn’t much to offer the country when it comes to an alternative to Obama’s policies in the Middle East since he is, if anything to the left of the president on these issues. But when the conversation turns to the unpopular Iraq War, Paul is in his comfort zone.

He even used that as an opening to attack Rubio for supporting foreign aid. Though depriving allies, such as Israel, of essential help, has long been a staple of Paul’s neo-isolationism that nowadays masquerades as “realism,” it’s the sort of point that remains a popular applause getter on the stump. But it took a lot of brass for Paul to tag Rubio as being on “the wrong side of history” because of his belief that a judicious distribution of aid to friends was an essential part of preserving American strength.

Though his position doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, Paul’s willingness to stand up against a forward American stance abroad and aid does at least provide a competing foreign policy vision for Republican voters. It’s doubtful they would prefer Paul’s channeling of his inner Bernie Sanders to Rubio’s more Reaganesque approach. But when compared to Bush’s agonized dance around his brother’s record or Walker’s blank slate (not to mention Ben Carson’s sheer ignorance of foreign policy), it does set up a serious competition between the two senators.

Bush may be raising the most money but in the foreign policy primary, he’s trailing Rubio badly. There’s plenty of time for him and the others to catch up. But right now on Rubio and Paul are the ones who are most engaged in a vital debate about the future of America and the soul of the Republican Party.

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Walker’s Problematic Solution to His Immigration Problem

Some conservatives have been making it clear that they will not forgive or forget Marco Rubio’s past support of a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. That’s a problem for Rubio as he runs for the presidency even while saying that eventually a solution will have to be found for the illegals after the border is secured. But it appears that Scott Walker is taking action to avoid facing the same problem. Walker’s record on the issue was in the spotlight this week after his radio interview with Glenn Back when he not only disavowed his past support for a form of amnesty but also proposed new restrictions on legal immigration in order to protect “American workers and wages.” That might help inoculate him against the kind of Mau-Mauing that Rubio is getting from the likes of Laura Ingraham and Anne Coulter, but it raises questions about whether he is creating a new set of problems for his candidacy and the GOP.

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Some conservatives have been making it clear that they will not forgive or forget Marco Rubio’s past support of a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. That’s a problem for Rubio as he runs for the presidency even while saying that eventually a solution will have to be found for the illegals after the border is secured. But it appears that Scott Walker is taking action to avoid facing the same problem. Walker’s record on the issue was in the spotlight this week after his radio interview with Glenn Back when he not only disavowed his past support for a form of amnesty but also proposed new restrictions on legal immigration in order to protect “American workers and wages.” That might help inoculate him against the kind of Mau-Mauing that Rubio is getting from the likes of Laura Ingraham and Anne Coulter, but it raises questions about whether he is creating a new set of problems for his candidacy and the GOP.

Walker’s previous positions in support of President George W. Bush’s push for immigration reform—including the 2006 bill favoring a path to citizenship co-sponsored by John McCain and Ted Kennedy—and providing in-state tuition breaks for illegal immigrants are not as well known as Rubio’s advocacy for the bipartisan comprehensive bill that passed the Senate in 2013. Rubio eventually backed away from the bill in favor of a position that prioritized border security. That position was seen as both the result of political calculation as well as part of the country’s reassessment of the situation after the surge of illegals at the Texas border last summer. To hardliners on the issue, that’s a flip-flop they won’t let him get away with. But the Wisconsin governor, who was flying far under the national radar on this issue until recently, is now facing the kind of scrutiny that goes with running for president. If conservatives are holding Rubio accountable for his positions, it stands to reason the same radio talkers and pundits flaying Rubio will do the same to Walker.

Walker’s plan to avoid getting sunk by the base is to do more than changing his mind on amnesty. He’s taken the most strident anti-immigration position of any Republican candidate. By stating his willingness to enact restrictions on legal immigration along some as-yet-unstated formula that would supposedly protect American workers from foreign competition, Walker is banking on the idea that this will not only distract conservatives from his past apostasy but allow him to own the issue as one that will endear him to the party base. Just as importantly, it enables him to connect the issue to his basic economic and social message which seeks to shift the Republican focus from aiding the cause of business to that of support for working and middle-class Americans who are getting the short end of the stick in President Obama’s anemic economic recovery. That bolsters his attempt to portray himself as an ordinary American running against Republican and Democratic millionaires, i.e. Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton.

That sounds like smart politics, and in a crowded Republican field anything that allows a candidate with a lot of mainstream appeal like that of Walker to also get a potential grip on the portion of the party base that cares deeply about immigration makes sense. President Obama’s extralegal efforts to create amnesty for millions of illegals by executive orders has also made comprehensive reform toxic for many Americans who care about the rule of law. But there is a big difference between taking a stand against amnesty for illegals and seeking to restrict future legal immigration into the country.

It is one thing to say that reform of our broken immigration system must be preceded by efforts to ensure that a solution for the plight of the 11 million illegals already here is not followed by a new surge across the borders by those seeking the same good deal. It is quite another to start pandering to those who view any sort of immigration with distaste. It is a myth to assert that illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from American workers since it’s not as if those already here are being denied opportunities to pick fruit, clean hotel rooms, or bus restaurant tables.

So long as they are talking about illegals alone, Republicans can defend their stands as pro-rule of law and not anti-Hispanic. But if Walker is going to favor new restrictions even on those attempting to play by the rules, it will be hard to argue that the point of such a position is not based on a broader effort to prevent immigration. That’s a stand that some opponents of immigration reform have flirted with before but it’s not one that Republicans should be playing with. It’s all well and good for Walker to try and stay in the party mainstream on the issue but he needs to remember that stands that can be easily confused with prejudicial attitudes toward immigrants will haunt a candidate in a general election. Walker, who has shown progress in getting up to speed on foreign policy, is a candidate that Democrats rightly fear. But as much as he should avoid making the same mistake as Jeb Bush and run against the base, right now it looks as if he’s forgetting that he will need more than the base if he wants to be elected president.

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Will Rubio Be Sunk By Immigration?

Since he declared for the presidency, a lot of the comments about Marco Rubio’s candidacy have been about the rivalry between the Florida senator and his onetime mentor and ally Jeb Bush. But the two Floridians have more than a state in common. As the pair joined the other 17 declared or potential Republican candidates in New Hampshire this past weekend for an inconclusive scrum that told us nothing about the outcome of the race, Rubio’s effort to clarify his stance on immigration yesterday raised an interesting question about both his and Bush’s chances of winning the nomination. Though it is impossible to know how a competition with such a crowded field will play out, it remains to be seen whether the willingness of Rubio to contemplate a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, even in theory as opposed to actual practice in the foreseeable future, will sink him.

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Since he declared for the presidency, a lot of the comments about Marco Rubio’s candidacy have been about the rivalry between the Florida senator and his onetime mentor and ally Jeb Bush. But the two Floridians have more than a state in common. As the pair joined the other 17 declared or potential Republican candidates in New Hampshire this past weekend for an inconclusive scrum that told us nothing about the outcome of the race, Rubio’s effort to clarify his stance on immigration yesterday raised an interesting question about both his and Bush’s chances of winning the nomination. Though it is impossible to know how a competition with such a crowded field will play out, it remains to be seen whether the willingness of Rubio to contemplate a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, even in theory as opposed to actual practice in the foreseeable future, will sink him.

Rubio, who won a Senate seat as a Tea Party insurgent challenging establishment Republican (turned independent and then Democrat) Charlie Crist, saw his stock fall badly among movement conservatives when he embraced a bipartisan immigration reform bill in 2013 that promised illegals a path to citizenship. The bill died in the House, and Rubio took such a drubbing among GOP activists that it appeared that his once promising 2016 hopes were at an end. But Rubio ultimately walked away from the bill declaring, as did many of his House colleagues, that a necessary reform of the immigration system would have to wait until the border was secured. The 2014 surge of illegals at the Texas border vindicated that opinion and Rubio seemed to have subsequently put himself in line with the views of much of the party base.

But though Rubio now says a comprehensive approach to immigration is neither politically possible nor good policy, he’s not willing to disavow the concept of ultimately allowing some illegals a way to come in out of the shadows. That’s what he said yesterday on CBS’s Face the Nation even as he admitted that it could only happen after a “long process” that wouldn’t involve “a massive piece of legislation” that reform advocates, including President Obama, demand. However, that disclaimer may not be enough to persuade many Republicans that he hasn’t disqualified himself from presidential consideration.

That’s the gist of the abuse being flung at Rubio by radio talkers like Laura Ingraham and pundit Anne Coulter, all of which seem aimed at labeling Rubio as a Hispanic version of moderate Lindsey Graham. They won’t forgive Rubio for his past advocacy of the Senate bill. As far as they are concerned anything that smacks of amnesty for illegals, either by President Obama’s extralegal executive orders or constitutional legislation, is equally suspect. Bush, who is counting on establishment support, already knows that the party base won’t back him. Indeed, at times, Bush has seemed to be willing to run against the base in the hope that this would facilitate his general-election campaign if he wins the nomination.

But Rubio is neither foolish enough to run against the base nor possessed of sufficient establishment backing that he can afford to ignore taunting from radio talkers that can fire up people against him.

In a race in which foreign policy plays a major role, Rubio, the most articulate of the likely contenders on security and defense issues, can expect to shine. His launch also reminded the country about why so many Republicans thought he was the perfect candidate to help them break the mold of the last two elections in which the GOP seemed to be doomed to permanent minority status. The bump he received recently in the polls is an indication that he has a higher ceiling than many of those Republicans planning on jumping into the fray. But it remains to be seen whether any candidate who needs, as Rubio does, to get some share of the conservative vote can survive the pasting he’s going to continue to get from elements of the activist core that consider any leniency on immigration to be the third rail of politics.

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Hillary Clinton Is Terrified of People. Will It Matter to Voters?

If, as a child, you expressed fear of a certain kind of insect, or a dog or a cat perhaps, you were probably told by an adult to buck up because “it’s more afraid of you than you are of it.” If so, you might find it endearing to learn that the same could probably be said about Hillary Clinton. It’s true that she seeks to punish dissent, embraces Nixonian power lust and rule breaking, and is even willing to support amending the Constitution to trash free-speech protections if it means keeping a negative movie about her out of theaters. But as we’re learning this week, as creepy and destructive as her view of government is, she’s almost certainly more afraid of you than you are of her.

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If, as a child, you expressed fear of a certain kind of insect, or a dog or a cat perhaps, you were probably told by an adult to buck up because “it’s more afraid of you than you are of it.” If so, you might find it endearing to learn that the same could probably be said about Hillary Clinton. It’s true that she seeks to punish dissent, embraces Nixonian power lust and rule breaking, and is even willing to support amending the Constitution to trash free-speech protections if it means keeping a negative movie about her out of theaters. But as we’re learning this week, as creepy and destructive as her view of government is, she’s almost certainly more afraid of you than you are of her.

IJ Review has a fun side-by-side comparison of what happened when the entertainment-news site TMZ attempted to question Marco Rubio in an airport, and what happened when TMZ tried to corner Hillary Clinton in an airport. Rubio walked over to the cameraman smiling, and chatted for a bit about his campaign, music, and even gracefully handled a question about his wife being an ex-cheerleader. He never looked uncomfortable, or bothered by the questions.

The video of Clinton consists entirely of her walking away in silence, hearing but ignoring the cameraman.

You may think that if there’s any fear at play in that video, it’s fear of the media or of accountability. And that’s surely true. But Hillary’s campaign rollout is revealing that it’s a more generalized fear than that: the woman who wants to be the next president is terrified of people.

Politico reports that while Hillary launched her campaign promising to fight for “everyday Americans,” she would prefer to do so at a distance. She drove to Iowa to meet with voters, but it turned out to be the early stages of a Potemkin campaign:

That’s because she didn’t actually have much face time with regular Iowans who weren’t handpicked by her campaign.

In part, that was by design: Clinton didn’t meet with that many people, period. The strategy going in was to focus on small groups — rather than stage big rallies — and to cultivate more intimate experiences. But Clinton’s foray into Iowa was also an exercise in preaching to the choir, largely executed in the safety of controlled environments.

All told, she met with less than a few dozen Iowans who weren’t pre-selected.

The Politico piece is a guided tour through Hillary’s Iowa trip and the carefully selected groups of “regular people” she met and spoke with along the way and who asked her canned softball questions that were really just liberal talking points with a question mark at the end.

But then, something happened that threatened to shake the very foundations of her Iowa trip: someone spoke to her unscripted. Politico tells the terrifying tale:

But Clinton appeared less at ease in less controlled situations. When two reporters yelled questions at her about why she ignored a 2012 letter from congressional investigators asking about her personal email use at the State Department, and why she appeared to change her position on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, Clinton bolted from the room without a word to the news media.

The subheadline of the Politico article is: “Clinton’s foray into Iowa was an exercise in preaching to the choir, executed in the safety of controlled environments.” That seems like an accurate summary of the trip as well as Hillary’s hopes for the campaign. She is uneasy when she doesn’t approve everyone’s placement in the room and when she doesn’t know what they’re going to say to her. She needs pre-programmed responses to questions. The act of thinking on the fly, of deciding for herself what she believes–of actually believing something, anything–is too much for her.

The extent to which Clinton’s interactions with the public must be stage-managed can get quite ridiculous. In September at the Harkin Steak Fry in Iowa, Hillary pretended to grill a steak that had been pre-grilled for her in order to fulfill the obligatory photo op. A picture of Hillary flipping a pre-cooked steak at a steak fry is possibly the quintessential image of Hillary’s presidential ambitions.

The question, as always, is whether any of this is going to matter. Hillary’s a disaster when actually speaking extemporaneously, so there’s an argument to be made that the image of an entitled aspiring monarch running away from “everyday Americans” at full speed is an improvement over what she might say when asked a question that hasn’t been pre-written and pre-answered.

But the contrast between her and the Republicans like Rubio, who wear a smile easily and are willing to interact with voters, is not going to be kind to her during this long campaign. Get to know America, Mrs. Clinton. You just might like it if you give it a chance.

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Don’t Call It a Comeback (Because It Isn’t)

The most commonly recalled lesson of the 2008 presidential campaign is the danger in declaring a candidate “inevitable.” But that overshadows the other lesson from that same year, and it has to do not with Hillary Clinton but with John McCain: it can be just as risky to declare a candidacy all but dead in the water. So while Clinton is aiming to avoid a repeat of that year, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, mostly written off by political observers (including this one), might just be hoping history at least rhymes this time around on the Republican side.

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The most commonly recalled lesson of the 2008 presidential campaign is the danger in declaring a candidate “inevitable.” But that overshadows the other lesson from that same year, and it has to do not with Hillary Clinton but with John McCain: it can be just as risky to declare a candidacy all but dead in the water. So while Clinton is aiming to avoid a repeat of that year, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, mostly written off by political observers (including this one), might just be hoping history at least rhymes this time around on the Republican side.

Hillary was not inevitable, as it turned out, which is why she’s back running again this year. But she seems inevitable again, and this time more so. Are pundits who may be repeating their mistake with Hillary repeating the same mistake by dismissing Chris Christie’s chances to win the GOP nomination?

In a word, no.

The New Jersey governor has launched what is being termed a “comeback” tour, and the plan appears to have both a geographic center and a policy one. As the Washington Post reports:

Chris Christie kicked off a two day swing to New Hampshire with a sober prescription for tackling escalating entitlement spending.

The New Jersey governor and potential Republican presidential candidate proposed raising the retirement age for Social security to 69, means testing for Social Security, and gradually raising the eligibility age for Medicare.

Christie outlined his proposals on entitlement reform at a speech Tuesday morning at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College.

“In the short term, it is growing the deficit and slowly but surely taking over all of government. In the long term, it will steal our children’s future and bankrupt our nation. Meanwhile, our leaders in Washington are not telling people the truth. Washington is still not dealing with the problem,” Christie said.

“Washington is afraid to have an honest conversation about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid with the people of our country. I am not,” the governor added.

As Hail Marys go, there is logic to this plan. Geographically, it makes sense. The crowded field of social conservatives and candidates with Midwest ties/appeal makes Iowa a stretch for Christie. New Hampshire, on the other hand, is much closer to home for a northeastern Republican, and ideologically probably a better fit than Iowa for someone like Christie.

Additionally, the idea that candidates might waste resources trying to win Iowa at the expense of New Hampshire isn’t crazy at all. In fact, since 1980, for every presidential-election year in which there was no Republican presidential incumbent, Iowa and New Hampshire chose different winners. This streak almost ended in 2012 when it appeared Mitt Romney won Iowa and then went on to win New Hampshire, but once all the votes were counted it turned out Rick Santorum had actually won Iowa. The smart money, then, in New Hampshire is never on the winner of the Iowa caucuses (at least not when it’s an open seat). Christie probably knows this.

However, with such a crowded field, even assuming the Iowa winner doesn’t also win New Hampshire (and he will still likely compete there for votes anyway) Christie will have a steep hill to climb. Jeb Bush is his most significant rival for establishment votes, and Bush will have lots of money to blanket the northeast in ads while Christie’s campaign is just getting out of the gate. Rand Paul will likely be competitive in New Hampshire, with its libertarian streak (his father did reasonably well in New Hampshire). And then there will still be Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and others.

On the policy side, I don’t think I even need to point out the risk involved in making entitlement reform the centerpiece of your agenda. It is bold, and Christie does need to stand out from the pack. He needs conservative votes, not just establishment support, and conservatives might be more amenable to such cuts (in theory at least, and it’ll vary depending on which piece of the safety net we’re talking about).

Christie is very good in person, so the town hall format should help him. He’s also got the “straight-talker” bona fides to at least portray himself as the guy who’s telling you what you need to hear, not necessarily what you want to hear. But that can go south in a hurry, considering Christie’s temper.

And further, as Harry Enten points out today, “The Politics Of Christie’s ‘Bold’ Social Security Plan Are Atrocious.” Enten writes:

According to a January 2013 Reason-Rupe survey, Republicans are more likely than Democrats, independents and the general public to say that income should not be a determining factor in receiving Social Security benefits. Only 26 percent of Republicans believe that Social Security should go to only those below a certain income level. Seventy percent of Republicans are opposed to such a proposal. …

In a September 2013 Associated Press-National Opinion Research Center poll, 58 percent of Republicans over the age of 50 were opposed to raising the age of eligibility on Social Security. Just 33 percent of Republicans over the age of 50 support such a proposal. According to an April 2013 Fox News survey, Republicans overall are more split. Still, does Christie really want to try to push the idea of raising the retirement age in New Hampshire, where 56 percent of primary voters are over the age of 50? For a moderate Republican like Christie, New Hampshire is a crucial state. His plan doesn’t seem like smart politics.

No, it doesn’t. But Christie can’t really afford to play it safe. Or can he? Is he learning the wrong lesson himself from 2008? McCain’s comeback was not due to bold conservative reform plans. If anything, he was the “safe” candidate in the field: the war hero with clean hands and decades of service. As other, more hyped candidates flamed out early, McCain simply remained standing.

He also benefited from the electoral math, specifically in having others in the race like Mike Huckabee who could siphon votes from Romney without posing a serious threat to McCain.

Then again, considering the strength of the field this year, Christie can’t plausibly expect every other serious candidate to implode. So he’s going for broke. It’s an interesting idea that may be making headlines today but will ultimately be a footnote in the story of 2016.

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Rubio, Immigration, and the Long Road to the Nomination

Yesterday, on the day of the announcement of his presidential candidacy, Marco Rubio had two very good reasons to talk about immigration. And that’s the problem. Rubio took a risk in trying to reform the federal immigration system. It was, in many ways, an admirable risk, since the system really does need an overhaul, and Rubio seems to have learned an important lesson about prioritizing border security and preventing another border surge over increasing low-skilled immigration. But it was an expensive lesson.

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Yesterday, on the day of the announcement of his presidential candidacy, Marco Rubio had two very good reasons to talk about immigration. And that’s the problem. Rubio took a risk in trying to reform the federal immigration system. It was, in many ways, an admirable risk, since the system really does need an overhaul, and Rubio seems to have learned an important lesson about prioritizing border security and preventing another border surge over increasing low-skilled immigration. But it was an expensive lesson.

The first reason Rubio had to talk about immigration was that he was asked. He gave an interview to NPR’s Steve Inskeep, and at one point in the wide-ranging discussion the subject turned to immigration. Rubio mentioned that he understands now that immigration reform can’t be “comprehensive,” as he had hoped, especially because distrust of massive government legislation is so high. He also talked about how difficult it would be to get such legislation passed during Obama’s presidency. (Obama has famously torpedoed immigration reform time and time again.)

And then Inskeep asked about the presidential election and the Hispanic vote, and the two had this exchange:

How do you keep from getting hammered on that in a general election where the Hispanic vote may be very important?

Well, I don’t know about the others, but I’ve done more immigration than Hillary Clinton ever did. I mean, I helped pass an immigration bill in a Senate dominated by Democrats. And that’s more than she’s ever done. She’s given speeches on it, but she’s never done anything on it. So I have a record of trying to do something on it. It didn’t work because at the end of the day, we did not sufficiently address the issue of, of illegal immigration and I warned about that throughout that process, as well, that I didn’t think we were doing enough to give that bill a chance of moving forward in the House.

It’s understandable that Rubio chose this answer. The phrasing of the question hemmed him in a bit, tying immigration reform to the Hispanic vote. But the truth is, supporting immigration reform will not do much for Republicans’ attempts to win over Hispanic voters, and “taking the issue off the table” by actually successfully passing and instituting reform won’t do much more.

As far as attempting to pass reform, this is because Hispanic voters have much more in common with Democrats than Republicans on policy than simply immigration. And Republicans knew this even before the 2012 election. On the day of that election, for example, I pointed out a poll showing President Obama getting 73 percent of the Hispanic vote and Hispanic voters trusting Obama and the Democrats on the economy over Mitt Romney and the Republicans by a 73-18 percent margin.

Other polls have shown similar results with even more specifics, but the numbers in that poll were so clear as to be a neon sign: Hispanic voters were, like their fellow voters, concerned about the economy. That poll also indicated that promising to address immigration reform wasn’t very valuable to Hispanic voters, because they didn’t believe congressional cooperation would have improved much no matter who won.

And “taking it off the table” doesn’t get you very far either, because it won’t be done by 2016 anyway (in part because Democrats don’t want to take this issue off the table). It might help somewhat, but it’s not the main issue and treating it as if it were can be a distraction. This is also why mainstream reporters will always want to tie immigration reform to the Hispanic vote: the odds are against it, and therefore they can keep badgering Republicans on it.

The other good reason Rubio had for talking about immigration is that Republican candidates are already pivoting to the general election by contrasting themselves with Hillary Clinton. Jeb Bush does this because he wants to prove himself to the establishment and look like a frontrunner. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Rubio will do this because they are young enough to pitch the election as “yesterday” vs. “tomorrow.” (Rubio did this explicitly, and brilliantly, in his announcement speech.) Age is no advantage against each other, though, for the latter three.

Rubio also had perfect timing to turn his criticism to Hillary, since she announced her campaign the day before he did. It’s possible she thought she was upstaging him, but he turned it to his advantage flawlessly. Going forward, the GOP candidates will surely criticize each other, but Rubio was right to turn toward the general this week, and doing so opens the door to talk about immigration.

But Rubio doesn’t have to run from this issue to avoid antagonizing the base. He just has to understand that pivoting to the general election before the actual general election is different than after winning the nomination, because he’s making his pitch to Republican primary voters.

The “I can beat Hillary” rationale does not have a great track record, if 2007-08 is any guide. But whatever credit Rubio will get for attempting immigration reform, he’s already received. For now he needs to remember who his audience is, because if he’s lucky they’ll be his primary audience for the next year.

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Rubio’s Path Is Steep But Doable

Marco Rubio’s timing couldn’t be better. A day after Hillary Clinton’s announcement for the presidency reminded us why the putative Democratic nominee will be running away from what should have been a strength—foreign policy—the Florida senator’s declaration illustrates why the youngest candidate in the field (five months younger than Ted Cruz) has a chance. Just as Clinton’s seeming inevitability is undermined by the sense that she is a stale retread from the ’90s who is looking to serve the third term of either her husband or her former boss, Rubio epitomizes the future of American politics. As a Hispanic and the son of working class immigrants, arguably the Republican candidate with the strongest command of foreign policy among the major contenders, and perhaps the best speaker, Rubio ought to rate serious consideration. But whether he does or not will depend on his ability to withstand the scrutiny and rigors of the big stage as well as that of his rivals.

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Marco Rubio’s timing couldn’t be better. A day after Hillary Clinton’s announcement for the presidency reminded us why the putative Democratic nominee will be running away from what should have been a strength—foreign policy—the Florida senator’s declaration illustrates why the youngest candidate in the field (five months younger than Ted Cruz) has a chance. Just as Clinton’s seeming inevitability is undermined by the sense that she is a stale retread from the ’90s who is looking to serve the third term of either her husband or her former boss, Rubio epitomizes the future of American politics. As a Hispanic and the son of working class immigrants, arguably the Republican candidate with the strongest command of foreign policy among the major contenders, and perhaps the best speaker, Rubio ought to rate serious consideration. But whether he does or not will depend on his ability to withstand the scrutiny and rigors of the big stage as well as that of his rivals.

There has always been a strong argument in favor of Rubio sitting out the 2016 race. Running now puts him in competition with his former ally and mentor, Jeb Bush, as well as obligating him to give up a Senate seat that could have been his for the indefinite future, something fellow senators Ted Cruz (not up for reelection until 2018) and Rand Paul (he may be able to avoid making a decision about staying in the Senate until after the presidential primaries are decided) may not have to do.

There is also the question as to whether Rubio’s youth and relative inexperience have not quite prepared him for presidential prime time. Though he was promoted as the next great thing by many in the GOP after their 2012 election defeat, he had a very bad 2013 that started with a dive for a water bottle during his State of the Union response speech and then cratered as the party base bitterly rejected his support for a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill. By the end of that year as Rand Paul’s stock went up as even many Republicans were prepared to withdraw from engagement from the world, it seemed unlikely that Rubio would run for president, let alone be thought of as a potential first tier candidate.

But in the last year Rubio has rebounded. He managed to back away from the immigration bill by rightly concluding that the surge across the border last summer proved that security had to come first before a path to citizenship could be considered for those here illegally.

More than that, the very factor that undermined Paul’s confidence that the GOP was no longer the party of a strong America has boosted the rationale for a Rubio candidacy. As one of his party’s foremost spokesmen on foreign policy, Rubio offers a clear alternative to the once and future neo-isolationist Paul as well as defense and security neophytes like Scott Walker.

However, the obstacles in his way are formidable.

The first is that he can’t count on any one constituency to fall back on. Where Jeb Bush has the establishment, Rand Paul has libertarians, Ted Cruz has the Tea Party and, he hopes, Christian conservatives for whom he will have to compete with Walker, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee, Rubio has no such base.

What he does have is the ability to reach out to all of these constituencies, though many Tea Partiers, who once boosted him in his 2010 Senate run as one of their own, will never forgive him for his past support of immigration amnesty. That’s the conceit of Scott Walker’s candidacy as well, but the Wisconsin governor has not acquired the same enemies on the right that Rubio has made.

Also against him is the Obama precedent. As can also be said of Cruz, Republicans who have been complaining about the country being run by a first-term senator may not want to try the same experiment with a conservative instead of a liberal.

On top of all that is the fact that he must, at best, expect to split Florida fundraisers with Jeb Bush. And with his poll numbers still quite low, raising money may not be easy.

But there’s a reason Rubio seems willing to gamble his Senate seat on chances that some pundits don’t consider good.

Just as Obama didn’t wait his turn in 2008, it’s not crazy to think that Rubio could catch fire too. The fact is, the polls still mean very little right now, a point that Scott Walker should keep reminding himself about. The nomination will hinge on the debates and that ought to stand Rubio in good stead. He may not be able to count on any one sector of the party, but that can help him too since it means he can’t be pigeonholed as either a Tea Party or libertarian extremist who can’t win in November (as can be said of Cruz and Paul) or a product of the establishment or the past (as is the case with Bush). And unlike Walker, he won’t have to learn about foreign policy—the main job we hire presidents to do—on the fly.

The point about a large field with no real frontrunner is that it means that any one of the candidates who can engage the imagination of the voters can win. Rubio might not turn out to have the right stuff to win a presidential nomination let alone the election. But with his immigrant/working class background, Hispanic identity, and impeccable conservative credentials on social and economic issues, he remains the computer model of the kind of candidate Republicans need to nominate. His immigrant narrative is a powerful tool that not only helps him but also hurts Jeb Bush. He is a candidate of change and youth in a way that fellow Hispanic and relative youngster Ted Cruz is not.

Can it work? It has before in American politics when John Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama did it. Those are tough comparisons to live up or down. But with chances that are at least as good anyone else’s, there’s no reason for him not to give it a try.

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