Okay, I ripped up what I was writing about Marco Rubio before he gave his excellent, emotional, even a bit endearingly nervous speech announcing his candidacy at Miami’s iconic Freedom Tower Monday. Senator Rubio does have a serious problem. He is in grave danger of peaking too early, because I have a strong suspicion that in a very short time he will be the frontrunner for the Republican nomination.
Not only is Rubio the best speaker and the most attractive candidate, the buzz machine is right. He could be a Republican JFK. (Let’s leave aside whether JFK himself was JFK. We’re talking myth here.) He has youth, brains and charm. As of now he is easily the most charismatic candidate the GOP has had since Ronald Reagan. I know that’s not saying much. The GOP hasn’t been long on charisma. But Rubio clearly has got it.
During his speech, he went straight for Hillary Clinton, using his youth to highlight how Hillary (and also Jeb to some degree) was “yesterday’s” news. No doubt the Clinton machine took notice. Standing on stage next to Rubio, Hillary will need more than Fleetwood Mac or some trendy video to appear a future-oriented candidate. She’ll seem like what she is — an extremely wealthy, somewhat starchy senior citizen relying on her husband’s reputation to defeat a 43-year-old guy with vig-ahhhh. Rubio’s up-from-the-bootstraps life story is not going to help Hillary either. And that he is a Hispanic (who actually speaks fluent Spanish, unlike some candidates) may actually trump or cancel out Clinton’s number-one advantage — that glass-ceiling thing (how old is that? Calling Golda and Lady Thatcher?).
So Marco, as they call him, does have a problem. Frontrunners very quickly get in everyone’s crosshairs — and we’re still nineteen months from election day. [Self-promo alert: Don’t forget to follow the ups and downs of this on the forthcoming “Diary of a Mad Voter” by your not-so-humble scribe.] Remember what happened to Governor Rick Perry, once a frontrunner himself? I don’t expect the wonkish Rubio to have problems recollecting his policies, but there are myriad ways to fall from a pedestal, especially when everyone’s gunning for you.
The most serious accusation against Rubio is that he was too soft on immigration, having been a member of the reformist “Gang of Eight.” Rubio reconsidered, apologized and now says he favors an incremental approach to the issue, starting with border security. It’s hard not to take him seriously on that, considering his hawkish foreign policy views.
But the real question is how people feel about those who change their minds. A fair number are pretty unforgiving about that, writing off forever those who once said or did something they don’t approve of. (Hello, Ann Coulter!) I don’t agree. I actually prefer people who do change their minds once in a while (up to a point). Those who never change spook me. Reagan, as we know, changed his mind. He was a Democrat. I recently finished reading Lynne Cheney’s superb biography of James Madison. It was hard to count how many times the father of our Constitution changed his mind, not to mention his co-authors of The Federalist Papers.
But that should be obvious. It’s democracy, isn’t it? We debate and we try to persuade each other. I liked (a lot) what I heard from Marco Rubio Monday. He seemed like a man of passion who could persuade others. But it’s only the beginning, of course. So far, so good.