Other than getting elected to high office at a young age, Marco Rubio doesn’t have many awe-inspiring professional accomplishments. But that is neither unique among recent top-tier presidential contenders, nor central to the Florida senator’s campaign pitch.
Rubio’s lack of a high-profile professional accomplishment was put painfully on display when former presidential contender Rick Santorum appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week to explain why he endorsed his former rival.
When asked by Joe Scarborough to name one Rubio accomplishment, Santorum had some trouble. For three minutes, he twisted and turned trying to come up with something — anything.
“The bottom line is there isn’t a whole lot of accomplishments, Joe, and I just don’t think it’s a fair question,” Santorum finally sputtered in exasperation.
As the “Morning Joe” panel noted after Santorum’s grilling, there are a couple of professional Rubio accomplishments to which one could point. There is the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill that Rubio helped craft and pass through the Senate, but Rubio and his surrogates don’t mention that for obvious reasons. Rubio was also one of the people who led the effort to stymie Obamacare’s insurance company bailout that is causing the health care law all sorts of problems right now, but that’s kind of a complicated issue to explain and Rubio didn’t actually draft the the provision in question.
It seems reasonable to want a candidate for president who is loaded with professional accomplishment. But it doesn’t appear that voters value professional accomplishment as a significant factor in determining who to support these days. If they did, Jeb Bush would be cruising to the Republican nomination instead of probably crutched in a fetal position crying himself to sleep every night because of the ignominious way his political career is coming to an end (though after Saturday night’s debate, perhaps there is hope for him yet).
Scarborough and others suggest that Rubio is the Republican Obama — and that may be so, though Rubio has a good answer to that comparison. He says the problem with Obama was not that he was young and inexperienced, but that his worldview was wrong. Oh, and by the way, Obama won two presidential elections.
But what’s interesting to note is that, despite Rubio’s young age, his resume is not actually worse than some previous top-tier presidential contenders.
Let’s concede that the 2008 and 2012 Republican nominees, Mitt Romney and John McCain, had many more accomplishments to point to than Rubio (though some knocking Rubio for his lack of professional accomplishment would probably prefer a candidate with no accomplishments to one who is responsible for an accomplishment like the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill).
But compare John Kerry’s list of accomplishments in 2004 to Marco Rubio’s today. How much better was his resume exactly? Yes, Kerry was a vet. But in terms of getting legislation passed, there wasn’t much there. He sponsored 11 bills and joint resolutions that became law in the nearly 20 years he served in the Senate before running for president, the vast majority of which were things like creating “World Population Awareness Week.” He certainly didn’t have a signature piece of major legislation he was responsible for passing.
Obviously Barack Obama didn’t have a long list of stunning professional accomplishments when he entered the 2008 presidential race, but neither did his main rival for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton. She was by most accounts an average legislator during her eight years in the Senate.
If she wins the nomination in 2016, Hillary will have a more impressive resume than in 2008 by virtue of the fact she was secretary of state, but still few actual accomplishments to speak of, unless you consider helping turn Libya into a haven of terror an accomplishment. (RELATED: The Reason Why Democrats Are Obsessed With Hillary Clinton 2016)
None of this is to flack for Rubio’s record. But the reality is, quite a few top presidential contenders in recent history have lacked in the professional accomplishment department. Those who did have many accomplishments to point to, such as Romney and McCain, never earned the right to call the White House home.
Rubio’s case boils down to electability. Rubio might not be the most conservative candidate in the race – that’s probably Ted Cruz. He might not be the most accomplished candidate in the race – that’s probably Jeb Bush. But he believes, with good reason, that he is most electable conservative candidate in the race. And at the end of the day, you can have all the accomplishment in the world, but if you can’t beat Hillary Clinton in November, none of it matters.