It seems not a day goes by without Florida Senator Marco Rubio being mentioned as the favorite choice for vice president among Republicans in Washington. Even talk radio’s Rush Limbaugh weighed in when he said Senator Rubio should run for president in 2012.
It is true that Senator Rubio has certain political assets, including his ability to “attract” Latino voters due to his Cuban heritage. He also is conservative, smart, and a good speaker. And he hails from a state that is considered the mother of all battleground states for 2012. What’s not to like if you are a Republican looking toward the future?
Nothing — except for the fact that the 39-year-old Rubio was just sworn into the United States Senate on January 3, 2011.
Is the Republican Party so devoid of leadership that a newbie senator with no previous national or gubernatorial experience would even be considered presidential or VP material after only four months in Washington?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Worse, Rubio is about to be entangled in a political phenomenon I call GEAR, which stands for Gender-Ethnicity-Age-Race.
The GEAR phenomenon is when a candidate is chosen to be on a presidential ticket because he or she possesses one or more of the Gender-Ethnicity-Age-Race factors that are considered politically advantageous at the time of selection.
Let’s examine the history of GEAR on recent presidential tickets and see if there are any “teachable moments” for Senator Rubio in 2012.
The GEAR factor of “G” for gender first appeared on the 1984 presidential ticket with the selection of New York Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro as the first female vice-presidential candidate. (Ferraro passed away on Saturday at 75.) She was chosen by the Democrat presidential nominee, Walter Mondale, to spruce up the ticket, make history, and attract women voters. Granted, she did make history, but not with women voters, who in 1984 went for Reagan by 59% vs. 42% for Mondale.
One could say riding the big “G” in GEAR turned into a big flop for Ferraro.
She was unknown nationally, never caught fire on the ticket and, after giving up her congressional seat to run for VP, never held elective office again. (Although she tried in 1992 and 1998 for a New York Senate seat, she lost both races at the primary level.)
Four years later, in 1988, the GEAR factor of “A” for age surfaced when the Republican presidential nominee, Vice President George H.W. Bush, selected Indiana Senator Dan Quayle as his running mate.
Vice President Bush thought his ticket needed a little less gray hair so he plucked a handsome, unknown 41 year old out of the Senate and basically ruined Quayle’s career. Quayle’s candidacy provided a great addition to the political lexicon through that famous line from Senator Lloyd Bentsen in the 1988 VP debate — “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy” — after Quayle compared his Washington experience to Senator Kennedy’s in 1960.
Nevertheless, Bush/Quayle won the White House in 1988 and Quayle served as VP. But he soon became the butt of national jokes — many self-inflicted.
Since everyone knew the GEAR factor of age was the key reason for Quayle’s selection as VP in 1988 and because Quayle was generally seen as a poor choice, President Bush was urged to drop Quayle from the 1992 ticket.