Matt Yglesias has an interesting theory about why Marco Rubio’s campaign is not catching fire with establishment Republicans, despite the perception that he is the most electable establishment-friendly candidate left in the primary: apparently, much of the establishment thinks Rubio is kind of a dick.
Yglesias laid out his case in Vox on Monday with the polite version of this interpretation, which is that Rubio has often been called “a man in a hurry” by mainstream media organizations that report on what their reporters are hearing from Washington sources. That is to say, the Florida senator has always been ambitious in plotting his move up the ladder of electoral politics, aiming for higher office before his hand is even off the bible with which he just took the oath for his current one. This rubs his elders the wrong way. They think a young whippersnapper should wait his turn.
But Rubio has never shown the proper deference. He threw the Florida GOP into chaos with his Senate run in 2010, which required him to mount a primary challenge to then-Gov. Charlie Crist, who was popular within the party. During his time in office, he has defied the GOP caucus’s leadership by working on the infamous Gang of 8 immigration-reform bill. And when the GOP urged him to stay out of the presidential race because they feared he would hurt the candidacy of Jeb Bush, his mentor from his days in the Florida House, Rubio ignored them. Now Jeb is treading water, blowing through stacks of cash until the day that he takes his campaign behind the barn and puts it out of its misery.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post had a story over the weekend about Rubio’s unorthodox campaign strategy, which has seen him spend little time engaging in the day-to-day retail politics we see from other candidates: barnstorming around the early-voting primary states to shake hands and kiss babies at pancake breakfasts or hit the rubber-chicken dinner circuit. His strategy has some of his supporters nervous, with good reason: Over the last month, his national poll numbers have trended down. The story is even headlined “Will Marco Rubio Work Hard Enough to Become President?” This will surely call to mind some of the criticism Rubio has heard this fall over how many Senate votes he has missed while he has been off campaigning, a criticism that he has done little to defuse.
In fact, as the Post points out, Rubio has really only done particularly well in two areas: getting donors with deep pockets to back him, and debating. This is part of his campaign’s stated goal of selling the candidate nationally, with the idea of creating such a high profile that by the time voting starts, early-state voters will see him as the favorite elsewhere and want to get on board. It’s a risky strategy that isn’t paying off yet, unless you consider being 28 points behind Donald Trump a good spot to be in six weeks before the polls open.
There has long been a desire in the national press to make Rubio happen, for reasons I won’t bother rehashing again. And placed next to some of the dickishness on display in the GOP primary race, he looks downright genial. (Rubio’s not even the most dickish 44-year-old Cuban-American first-term senator in this race, and that’s a pretty specific demographic.) Which adds to his appeal to the “both sides” equivocators who host the Sunday shows and moderate the debates. So it’s easy to assume that a GOP establishment downright terrified that Donald Trump or Ted Cruz might actually pull off winning the nomination would grab for Rubio like a Titanic passenger reaching for floating wreckage.
I have long thought that Rubio’s campaign would flounder both on its weird strategy and the eventual recognition that the candidate’s positions are basically just warmed-over far-right pabulum that sound more convincing to voters when it is voiced by Cruz or Trump or just about any of the other scenery-chewing jingoists he’s running against. Now I’m wondering if he will be done in by an even more basic dynamic: that he’s an over-entitled ladder-climber who stabbed too many people in the back while failing to enlist a few loyalists to watch his own.
Call it the Julius Caesar Theorem, only with fewer dramatics. What with Florida’s primary falling on the Ides of March, it feels like an appropriate label.