On a blogger conference call held Monday
, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York, a Republican, referred to former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio as "new blood" and "the future of our party." I couldn't agree more, and although this will undoubtedly sound premature to some, I believe that if Marco Rubio goes on to win the U.S. Senate seat in Florida in November, he should immediately think about running for president -- possibly in 2012.
I know that at first blush, this sounds quixotic. But in my mind there is a better rationale for Rubio running for president than there is for almost any other candidate on the Republican side.
The obvious counter-argument is that he's too inexperienced, and that running this soon might look overly ambitious. For this reason, Rubio's team wants nothing to do with this meme, but the experience factor has been utterly altered by the very man I'd like to see Rubio challenge in less than three years. Barack Obama defeated Hillary Clinton and John McCain after serving only a few years in the U.S. Senate -- most of which was spent running for president.
Granted, Obama had the benefit of not having to run against an incumbent president -- a benefit that Rubio wouldn't enjoy in 2012. Moreover, while it was true that Obama had no executive know-how in 2008, he would now have vastly more governing experience than Rubio in 2012.
But the same arguments for why Obama was right to take the plunge in 2008 could be made for why Rubio should run in 2012. Obama won for a variety of reasons, including that he had not been in the U.S. Senate long enough to have acquired the out-of-touch mentality that comes with serving in the most exclusive private club in America. Additionally, he did not have a long paper trail of controversial votes that might be used against him (and his tenure in the Illinois Senate did not harm him to the degree it might have because the rules allowed him to skip controversial stands by voting "present.") Obama was also a fresh face who lacked the historical baggage that other Democratic candidates -- Hillary Clinton, for example -- had to carry. Being a blank slate allowed voters to believe in his hope and change message. And because he was not part of the past, he was able to transcend some of the old arguments and alliances that dogged candidates like Clinton, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, and even John Edwards.
Similarly, Rubio would start off as a fresh face whom almost every conservative in America would already be invested in, to one degree or another. Conversely, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee, to mention a few of the high-profile potential candidates, have scars from 2008 that won't fully heal in the next two years. Some past supporters may feel let down by them, and former enemies may still hold grudges. Romney, the presumptive front-runner, is harmed by his support of "Romneycare" in Massachusetts. Other potential candidates, such as Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi (who also served as RNC chairman and worked as a lobbyist) have backgrounds that might label them as D.C. insiders. Rubio has no such baggage.
Other potential dark horse 2012 GOP primary candidates, like John Thune
and Rick Santorum, have logged years in the U.S. Senate, meaning they are consummate insiders who will suffer many of the same obstacles that other denizens of the Senate have faced these last 40 years, or so. What is more, Thune is from South Dakota and Santorum is essentially a man without a home state
. Conversely, as we all know (at least, after the 2000 election, we all know) Florida is one of the most important electoral states in the nation.
The obvious pitfall with a fresh face is that Democrats have proven skillful at demonizing up-and-coming conservatives, ranging from Dan Quayle to Palin to Bobby Jindal. This is especially discouraging for conservatives who are lulled into believing they have found someone who will dispel the negative stereotypes about Republicans being the party of mean, old, white men – only to find the Democrats' knack for character assassination undermining their dreams. Rubio, however, might prove to be a tough customer for the Democrats to deal with. He would not be a below-the-radar candidate who is sprung on the nation as Quayle was when George H.W. Bush picked him as his running mate in 1988, or as Palin was when John McCain selected her in 2008.
Also, there is the possibility that Rubio, like Biden, Edwards, and George H.W. Bush, parlays his own candidacy into being a running mate (again, coming from Florida wouldn't hurt his chances). It is much less likely that he will become "Quayled" if he goes through the travails of running a vigorous primary campaign. Regardless, Rubio is currently running in what is probably the most high-profile U.S. Senate race in the nation. He has already had notable speaking gigs such as his recent speech at CPAC, and just last week he debated Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida on the nationally televised program "Fox News Sunday." And as a former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, he has more experience, substance, intellectual curiosity and media savvy than a certain former governor of Alaska, for instance. There is little chance that Rubio could be easily caricatured as a dolt.
And while I'm not a big believer in identity politics, clearly Rubio – the charismatic and young scion of Cuban refugees -- has a chance to repair the Republican brand image among both the Hispanic and youth vote. What is more, within the GOP, he does a good job of bridging the divide between conservative outsiders and establishment Republicans.
Perhaps the best argument for why Rubio should run in 2012 is the reason it's a less attractive possibility for him to wait until 2016. First, he would be up for re-election in Florida that year. He also will by then have become a "senator" – and, thus, perhaps less appealing to presidential voters. Perhaps most important, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida may by then believe the Bush name has been rehabilitated enough for him to make a run himself. Barack Obama was wise to seize his opportunity. Will Marco Rubio?