In the constellation of new GOP stars, none shine brighter than Marco Rubio.
While Sarah Palin and Chris Christie seem to attract the most praise and excitement these days from the Republican base, Rubio’s ascendance is sure to make him a household name in no time. In Florida’s senator-elect, many on the right think they have struck political gold: their own version of Barack Obama.
Former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said as much earlier this year, adding, “Marco’s got all the skills and tools and talents to be whatever he wants to be.”
Rudy Giuliani proclaimed Rubio as the “future of our party.”
Sarah Palin suggested on Election Night that Rubio could be more suited for the presidency than the vice presidency. “Not only vice presidential candidate, but potentially a presidential candidate,” Palin said. “If someone like Marco who has the right values, great principles, right resume and the willingness to make sacrifices and run and serve for the right reasons, I would be their biggest supporter.”
But you don’t have to take the word of the higher-ups within the GOP to realize that Rubio is a near lock to be on the biggest and brightest of political stages. Just listen to his victory speech from election night and it becomes evident why Democrats attempted to orchestrate a scheme to defeat him.
“And we make a grave mistake if we believe that tonight’s results are somehow an embrace of the Republican Party,” Rubio said, warning his party against misinterpreting their historic showing at the polls. “What they are is a second chance.”
The speech was a reminder of sorts. A message to the old guard from a fresh face that Republicans had better “be what they said they were going to be not so long ago.” But it was also an eloquent blend of humility, optimism, and personal anecdote. Rubio talked about his journey from Tea Party long shot to victor. He noted how the majority of Americans view their country as the “single greatest nation in all of human history.” His reference to his humble roots as the “son of exiles” was a great way of tugging at people’s heartstrings.
Though he has not even been sworn in, the buzz surrounding Rubio and his next political office has already begun. On the face of it, the idea of a Rubio presidential run in 2012 appears at best implausible, at worst outright ridiculous.
But Barack Obama’s meteoric rise to the presidency altered the rules of the game forever. Experience has come to be viewed as more of a vice than a virtue. The public loves political outsiders. And if you have the right message at the right time, anything is within reach.
Indeed, Republicans tend to keep their nomination process as tidy as possible, preferring the predictable to the unpredictable. But in 2010 predictability went on a hiatus, particularly in the GOP, where the Tea Party rocked, and continues to rock, the boat to an uncomfortable degree for the party establishment.
Let’s face it, with the exception of Palin, the list of prospective GOP contenders isn’t exactly lighting up the enthusiasm scoreboard. It’s why names like Chris Christie and Jeb Bush continue to pop up. The Republican base, at least for the time being, is skeptical of the current crop and appears quite willing to explore other options.
For his part, Rubio checks all the right boxes. He has the luck of being one of the few Republicans who is acceptable to both the Tea Party and the establishment wings of his party. His residence in a swing state and appeal to Hispanics, a slice of the electorate that has moved further and further away from the GOP, are considerable perks. And his compelling personal biography coupled with a charismatic speaking style is a potent combination for luring not only enthusiastic Republicans but independents and moderate Democrats as well.
It’s still too early to tell what’s in the cards for Rubio, but one can’t help but get the sense that, like Obama, his time in the Senate will be short.
Aaron Guerrero is a 2009 UC Davis graduate who majored in political science and minored in history. He formerly interned for Rep. Dan Lungren and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and is a freelance writer.