Marco Rubio’s problem

The GOP heap (after Scott Walker), © 2015 Susan Barsy

Marco Rubio’s problem?  He’s hasn’t done anything. Yes, he is skilled at talking and at winning elections, but he has a weak record of accomplishing.

Rubio is scrambling to be the GOP presidential candidate who benefits the most from Scott Walker’s dropping out of the race.  As I wrote the other day, a big factor for Republican hopefuls is where money and support drift as weaker candidates leave.  As they drop out, liberating resources, the market shares of the remaining candidates shift, reshaping the campaign.

Marco Rubio turned in a good performance at the debate.  Figures like David Brooks are talking him up.  Rubio has raised a lot of money.  He talks loudly about his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.  In the debate, he sought to impress by talking tough on foreign policy and trotting out his immigration plan.

Look closely, and you’ll notice that Rubio is an Obama-type candidate.  His career path is remarkably similar to the president’s, whom he despises.  A brief stay in the state legislature, then Senate election, and then  . . . (before youth fades) the presidency?  Rubio’s ambition is propelling him upward before he is ready.

Meanwhile, his lack of patience and success as a senator tells us what his presidential shortcomings would be.  Rubio wishes to leave the Senate without having figured out how to score legislative victories.  He hasn’t bothered to develop the relationships or negotiating skills that our interdependent style of government makes so necessary.  Being president would minister to Rubio’s self-image, but, when it comes to serving the nation, how effective could he be?

On immigration, for instance, Rubio is cogent because he once helped sponsor an ambitious bipartisan immigration-reform bill.  This was the impressive measure the Senate passed back in 2013.  At the time, the Huffington Post heralded it as “the most significant effort in years toward overhauling the nation’s inefficient patchwork of immigration laws.”

Republican senators proved powerless, however, to bring their more uncooperative House brethren along, so the initiative that Rubio and others had worked on died.  Now Rubio is touting his own reform plan that he asserts he could make a reality.  Given a president’s dependence on Congress, it’s doubtful he could make his claim come true.  Another young president who’s a weak party leader is the last thing this nation needs.

Yet Rubio is proud of his determination to quit the Senate in hopes of snagging the presidency.  Last week, he justified his failure to attend Senate by lashing out at a wrong-headed Washington establishment.  Though he hasn’t been able to alter that establishment as a Senator, he claims he can–if only Americans give him a bigger job.

Meanwhile, in the telling area of political endorsements, his fellow Floridan, Jeb Bush, continues to lead.  FiveThirtyEight ranks Bush at the top of the list in gaining the support of other established Republicans.  Rubio is near the bottom, indicating that Republican leaders view him much more skeptically than the media does.


Transcript of Senator Rubio’s remarks on his absenteeism
(courtesy CNN):

RUBIO: . . .  I’m proud to serve in the United States Senate. You know, when I ran five years ago, the entire leadership of my party in Washington lined up against me.

But I’m glad I won. And I’m glad that I ran, because this country’s headed in the wrong direction.  And if we keep electing the same people, nothing is going to change.

And you’re right, I have missed some votes, and I’ll tell you why . . .  Because in my years in the Senate, I’ve figured out very quickly that the political establishment in Washington, D.C. in both political parties is completely out of touch with the lives of our people.

You have millions of people in this country living paycheck to paycheck, and nothing is being done about it. We are about to leave our children with $18 trillion in — in — in debt, and they’re about to raise the debt limit again.

We have a world that grows increasingly dangerous, and we are eviscerating our military spending and signing deals with Iran. And these — if this thing continues, we are going to be the first Americans to leave our children worse off than ourselves.

That’s why I’m missing votes. Because I am leaving the Senate, I’m not running for re-election, and I’m running for president because I know this: unless we have the right president, we cannot make America fulfill its potential, but with the right person in office, the 21st century can be the greatest era that our nation has ever known.

A death pool for GOP candidates

The GOP heap (September 17, 2015)
The main question lingering after the CNN debate is which of the GOP presidential candidates will drop out next.  The question seems idle, but dropouts redistribute support to those remaining in the field.  Only after 5 or 6 more candidates drop out will we have a meaningful sense of the prospects of the remaining candidates.

Those most likely to drop out are the people we tend to forget are even running, like Rick Santorum and George Pataki.  Along with them, Huckabee, Jindal, Graham, Cruz, and perhaps even Rand Paul are looking highly vulnerable.

A company called Pivit runs a Political Prediction Market that includes a crowd-sourced ‘death pool’ on the candidates.  Anyone can register and weigh in, thereby affecting the real-time odds.

The question is, which candidates will benefit most as some of the lesser candidates drop out?  And would any of these candidates have fared better in a real primary than they have in mere opinion polls?  At this point, much of the public sentiment regarding the candidates derives from the sheer entertainment value of politics.

The strenuous character of Wednesday’s debate shows every sign of winnowing the field.  The odds of Donald Trump gaining the nomination have faded substantially overnight, as I noted in yesterday’s post.

Click here to view the real-time GOP odds.

The GOP candidates debate on CNN

I expect Donald Trump’s support to wane slightly after last night’s debate.  Of the eleven Republican presidential candidates to appear, several of his rivals are likely to gain.

Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio pulled out strong performances; Chris Christie had some effective moments, too.

Scott Walker was allowed plenty of airtime but came off as bland; Mick Huckabee came across as pleading for our indulgence (he had least business being on the stage).  Ben Carson lost ground by relying too much on low-energy generalities.  Kasich had one or two strong moments but relied too much on his record of performance in Ohio and the Senate.  The demand was for vision, and a sharp take on policy.

The moderator, Jake Tapper, with occasional questions from Dana Bash and radio personality Hugh Hewitt, did a great job of keeping the three-hour debate focused.  It was a strenuous format.  Candidates were called on unpredictably.  Tapper shifted the topic of debate often and quickly, sometimes arbitrarily cutting off comfortable discussions.  By and large, candidates spoke spontaneously and avoided boring set speeches.  Ted Cruz and Scott Walker were the worst when it came to spontaneity.  Cruz, of all the major candidates, is the most personally unappealing.  And, although Fiorina came across as powerful and poised, she fell back on rehearsed remarks too much, both in her discussion of the military and in the closing.

It was fascinating to hear how the candidates varied.  Their discussions of the legalization of marijuana, of the consequences of US’s military involvement in Iraq, the Iran nuclear deal, immigration reform, and the role of the Supreme Court under John Roberts, were particularly revealing.  Only Rand Paul and Ben Carson resolutely refrained from saber-rattling.  The other candidates vied to out-do one another with violent promises.  Scott Walker promised that if elected President, he would undo the nuclear deal with Iran ‘on day one.’  Fiorina likewise asserted that we should have no dealings whatever with Vladimir Putin, a position that Bush, Trump, and Paul all used to draw a contrast.  Several of the candidates invoked Reagan, insisting that the US is strongest when engaged diplomatically with the world’s scariest players.

Trump claimed that he would restore respect for America and ‘get along with everybody,’ but, when asked about his limited knowledge of foreign affairs, said only that he would put together a first-rate team.  Bush pleaded, more effectively than did Kasich, for a foreign policy committed to multilateralism and steady global engagement.  When one of Bush’s rivals tried to attack his brother’s record after 9-11, Bush’s simple response, ‘he kept us safe,’ drew sustained applause.

Cruz’s worst moment came when he tried to disavow his one-time support for John Roberts, whom he now depicts as an arch-enemy.  Trump’s worst moment came when he tried to compliment Carly on her beauty.  He also failed to summon a convincing reply when Bush accused him of having tried to get concessions on casino gambling from Hillary after giving her campaign money.

Bush’s best moments came when he admitted having smoking pot forty years ago, when he argued for a nuanced approach to immigration, and when, in the debate’s closing moments, he threw out the goal of propelling the US toward a high-growth-rate economy.  Marco Rubio showed his command of a rational immigration reform plan, but looked callow when he proclaimed that he had missed votes in the Senate because (essentially) the entire direction of Congress is mistaken.  His announced determination to leave the Senate in order to seek the presidency shows how unprepared to be president he really is.

All in all, the debate was refreshing in its breadth and intensity.  In the press of competition, the candidates, desperate to differentiate themselves from one another, came across quite candidly.  The bracing back-and-forth of this, the second GOP debate, casts into relief the dangerously lackluster character of the Democratic field.   A Democratic contest between Hillary and Bernie is going to make for poor entertainment indeed.  For now, the energy is with GOP field.