News today came that Marco Rubio looks likely to run for president. What to make of this?
The knock on Rubio, of course, is his support for the Senate immigration bill. I second these criticisms -- and have written about how the bill is bad for the middle class and is riddled with payoffs to corporate America. I don’t think Rubio is reliable on immigration, although I am guessing that he feels duly chastened by his experience in 2013 and 2014.
But then again I do not think any of the major Republican contenders -- outside Ted Cruz -- is reliable on this issue. The fact of the matter is that there is a disconnect within the Republican party on this issue. The financial interests that bankroll the party’s campaign want one thing -- something akin to the Senate bill -- while its grassroots voters want something else. So long as campaigns cost so much money, while grassroots voters have no practical alternative but to back the GOP, ambitious Republicans will lean to the “left” side of this issue. That’s just politics -- hate to say it, but it’s true.
That being said, the grassroots has a powerful ally on this issue: Southern Republicans, especially in the House. They fought back corporatist immigration reforms twice in the last decade. One of the great things about the South coming into the Republican party is that the Southern populism that made the Democrats so interesting from 1880-1930 is now ensconced in the GOP. Combined with the small-town Midwesterners who have been in the party since its founding -- it is darned near impossible, I reckon, to sneak a bad immigration bill through the House.
By the same token, these regions are notably weak in influencing presidential nomination processes because they don’t pony up the scratch to influence the field as it starts to form. They just get to make a selection between two, maybe three, candidates after it has winnowed.
So, Rubio’s “heresy” on immigration is not actually that heretical if you take a money-weighted average of party sentiment (i.e. the opinions of those who contribute more count for more). And, I’m guessing, most of the major aspirants would have supported the bill if the conservatives in the House hadn’t forced them to oppose it.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think the status quo in the nominating process is awful. Money matters far more than it should, and I think it is ultimately inhibiting the party from rebranding itself as a true reformist coalition. Jeffrey Anderson and I have criticized the nomination process at length in other venues. But our efforts to get the powers-that-be to take a closer look at sensible reforms went off like a lead balloon. The process is what it is for the foreseeable future, and I think it guarantees somebody who basically agrees with Rubio on immigration reform.
So, putting immigration reform aside, I think there is a lot to consider about Marco Rubio as a presidential candidate. He’s smart. He’s eloquent. He’s telegenic. All of that counts in a presidential campaign that will be fought mostly on television.
Moreover, his demographic and biographical profile matters. He’s young. He’s Latino. He’s from the quintessential swing state. A lot of Republicans I talk to pooh-pooh these qualities, saying that the party should nominate the best candidate instead of looking at his profile. That is a nice sentiment, but also completely ahistorical. Demographic/biographical variables were usually the key determinants for every GOP nominee from John C. Frémont through Dwight Eisenhower. I hasten to add that the Republican party won a lot of presidential elections during that period.
I think these qualities will make for a sharp contrast from Hillary Clinton. The GOP needs to throw the old Carville maxim back in the Clintons face:
-Change versus more of the same.
-The economy, stupid.
-And don’t forget health care.
Rubio’s profile might be perfect for that message.