Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report is somewhat baffled. A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll gave Republican voters a list of potential presidential candidates and asked whether the voters could support each candidate in the primaries. On that measure, Marco Rubio finished first. And yet when pollsters have asked GOP voters to name a top pick, Rubio inevitably finishes far from the top. Why is that? And why is Scott Walker doing better?
Yet, if Rubio’s got such obvious advantages, why is he stuck in the low single digits while Walker has become a “co-frontrunner” with Bush? First, don’t underestimate the power of Walker’s profile as a conservative governor of a blue state. Furthermore, for a party that’s ambivalent at best about the idea of the idea of a “legacy” candidate like Bush, Walker’s understated Midwestern-ism is appealing.
Rubio backers, however, aren’t worried about his low standing in the polls. If anything, they like where he sits today. Rubio gets to go about his work without the same level of scrutiny that Walker and Bush get. They also see Rubio as a candidate who can endure for the long-haul thanks to his natural political talent. Where Bush struggles on the stump, Rubio shines. Where Walker fails to engage, Rubio connects emotionally.
So, when can we expect to see Rubio’s poll numbers catch up with his potential? A high-profile stumble by Bush or Walker could give the Florida Senator an opening. The debates could be another place for Rubio to break out. His allies, meanwhile, aren’t convinced they need those things to happen for him to succeed. Instead, they say, he just needs to keep doing what he’s doing and the voters will catch on to his appeal.
So, um, he's just waiting to make his move? Is that it?
Paul Waldman is also puzzled:
As a liberal, Walker scares me, because among the serious Republican presidential candidates, I suspect he's the one who would govern with the most intense combination of recklessness and malice. But he doesn't strike me as the most formidable general-election candidate. That would probably be Marco Rubio. Although that judgment is subject to change (we'll have to see how they all perform in the rigors of the primary campaign), Rubio's appeal is undeniable. He's extremely conservative, but wears his ideology lightly -- unlike someone like Ted Cruz, he doesn't seem eager to smack voters in the face with how much of a right-winger he is. He's obviously smart, and of course the fact that he's Latino means he could cut in to the Democrats' advantage among that increasingly important group (though by how much, we really have no idea). If I were a Republican, I'd be amazed that more of my compatriots weren't flocking to him.
I think Waldman has partly answered his own question, though he doesn't seem to know it.
Besides the obvious problem (Rubio used to support immigration reform), Rubio is struggling because he "wears his ideology lightly." He'd be doing much better if Republicans thought he scared Paul Waldman and the rest of us liberals and lefties, the way Scott Walker does.
Of course Walker impresses GOP voters: his union-busting, electoral victories, and mutually beneficial relationship with the Koch brothers drive us nuts. Republican voters love that. By contrast, when has Rubio ever left us sputtering with rage? When has he gotten the better of us?
Ben Carson is popular on the right because he launched an attack on President Obama at the ostensibly apolitical National Prayer Breakfast. Chris Christie used to be popular on the right because he fought unions and publicly dressed down teachers and other critics. That's how you win favor on the right -- and Rubio doesn't do it.
I see a post at National Review's Corner titled "Marco Rubio Delivers Withering Rebuke of Obama’s Treatment of Israel." Here's what NR's Ian Tuttle considers "withering":
“As far as I know, after this election, the president has yet to call the prime minister,” said Rubio (the president has since been in touch with Prime Minister Netanyahu). “That is unlike the fact that in March 2012, he was among the first to call and congratulate [Vladimir] Putin in Moscow. Or that in June of 2012, he was among the first to call [Mohamed] Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood when they won the Egyptian presidency. Or that in November of 2012, they called to congratulate the top Chinese communists on their new position -- which by the way is not elected in the way you and I would consider there to be an election.”
Ooh, nice touch there, Marco -- "Chinese communists." I'm sure that goes over really well with the octogenarians on Calle Ocho and in The Villages. As for the rest of us, well, we're thinking 1973 called Rubio and wants its talking point back.
That's a big part of Rubio's problem: Your first impression of him is that he's young, good-looking, and fresh-faced, but eventually you realize that he is (to borrow Michael Kinsley's quip about the youthful Al Gore) an old person's idea of a young person. The Molly Ivins line about Mike Dukakis also applies: The man has got no Elvis.
The man? The boy? I watched a bit of the "withering" clip (originally posted by the Washington Free Beacon, which called it "blistering") -- and, well, it's not. Rubio is supposed to have A-list political talent, but where is it? He delivers the speech with no personality -- it's as if he's a junior speechmaking trainee and he's going to get a passing grade just for getting the words out at all. He comes off as the second-best debater on the second-best undergraduate debate squad in the state, and he looks as if he's still having trouble getting used to wearing a suit:
He's got nothing.
Maybe he'll develop a style someday. But then he has to do something to tick us off. Does he even understand that? If he just wants to be a running mate, maybe he doesn't care. Otherwise, I don't see him ever making his move.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog