Marco Rubio: An Obama Of Our Own?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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It has been reported that Jeb Bush advisers are referring to Sen. [crscore]Marco Rubio[/crscore] as a “GOP Obama.” If this means he would be a two term president who passes landmark legislation the other side hates, and nominates two Supreme Court Justices, the GOP should be so lucky.

If the insinuation is that Rubio would follow Obama’s liberal policies, this doesn’t ring true. Remember, in this scenario, Rubio is a “GOP” Obama, which means he’s a Bizarro, mirror image, Obama. The notion, for example, that Rubio would likewise dither in foreign affairs seems absurd. If anything, we should be worried that he would be (in Donald Trump terminology) too militaristic.

Or maybe the insinuation is that, as a first-term senator, Obama lacked executive experience needed to work across the aisle with Congress? It should be noted that, unlike Obama, Rubio actually served as speaker of the Florida Statehouse. What is more, the notion that executive experience is a panacea seems to have been contradicted by the presidency of Jeb’s brother, George W. Bush. President Bush, you might recall, famously worked with Democrats in Texas, and came to the presidency promising to be “a uniter, not a divider.” How’d that work out?

The real question is whether Republicans are in the mood to nominate Obama’s opposite (say, Donald Trump) or someone who is stylistically similar to Obama (say, Rubio), the way Democrats did in 1992. At that moment, the time was right for a folksy Southern Democrat who wouldn’t turn off middle America. Bill Clinton was the man for the job. Maybe the zeitgeist today calls for a cosmopolitan conservative who won’t turn off Hispanics, and millennials?

If Obama’s election actually “changed the trajectory of America,” whereby modern politicians need to be more diverse and cosmopolitan, then someone like Rubio is the GOP’s best bet. Fight fire with fire. But if Obama’s election was an anomaly, the opposite is true. (Note: My forthcoming book Too Dumb to Fail argues the former is the case. Demographic changes mean that Republicans can no longer rely solely on the votes of older, white, rural, non-college educated, married Americans. As such, I would certainly lean toward nominating someone more like Rubio than Trump.)

There are good examples for either model. After eight years, sometimes Americans crave a stark change and overreact by nominating someone the exact opposite of the last guy (stylistically, the citified Obama was vastly different from the swaggering George W. Bush). Other times, the only way political party’s can forge a comeback is by finding their own version of the other party’s guy.

Such was the case when Andrew Jackson defeated John Quincy Adams, shifting the political paradigm in a populist direction.

As I’ve written before, “after 12 years of Democrats Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, [John Q.] Adams’ Whigs could see the writing on the wall. To regain power, they would have to nominate their own folksy war hero: William Henry Harrison. In 1840, Harrison won.” Harrison was a “Jackson of their own,” just as Rubio could be an “Obama of our own” (someone, just remind him to wear a coat during his inaugural address…)

Substantively, Team Jeb’s attack on Rubio doesn’t hold water. Republicans should want to elect someone who accomplishes as much for conservatism as Obama accomplished for liberalism. But the attack has little to do with substance. This is politics, and the calculation is that any comparison with Obama — even if it’s purely stylistic — is destined to hurt Rubio.