Ross Douthat asks “Why Isn’t Marco Rubio Winning?” and discusses a few theories. The first is that immigration has become the defining issue of the race and Rubio’s record with the Gang of Eight is the kiss of death. The second is that the tsunami of negative ads sponsored by Jeb Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise, have poisoned the well. Another possibility, floated by FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten, is that Rubio is too conservative to nail down the moderate support that is still toying with Christie, Bush, and Kasich.
Douthat wonders whether Rubio’s strengths may not be quite fit the mood of the moment:
Part of the reason that pundits (myself included) have tended to rate the Florida senator highly as a candidate is that he combines a conservative record with some of the gifts of Bill Clinton circa 1992 and Barack Obama circa 2008 — eloquence, optimism, a strong personal narrative, a clear interest in domestic policy.
But in this election, many Republican voters seem to be looking for a Richard Nixon — a hard man for hard times, you might say, which isn’t really a slogan that fits the boyish-looking first term senator.
Rubio is strong on domestic policy, but he’s even more impressive on foreign policy. And when you consider that Republican voters are more concerned with the threat of terrorism than any other issue this year (34 percent saying it’s the most important issue, with 29 percent listing jobs and the economy), this could be a defining issue for the campaign.
Rubio’s judgment on foreign policy has been keen. While others have offered versions of Barack Obama’s policy on Syria, for example, Rubio has been nearly alone in recognizing the role that the Sunni/Shia civil war plays in the rise of ISIS. ISIS is in large measure a reaction to Bashar Assad, and defeating ISIS will require a two-pronged strategy: a Sunni Arab coalition with American participation to fight ISIS, and a plan to remove Assad.
He was also very sharp about Putin. During the September Republican debate, Rubio said this:
[Putin] wants to reposition Russia, once again, as a geopolitical force … He’s trying to destroy NATO. And this is what this is a part of. He is exploiting a vacuum that this administration has left in the Middle East. Here’s what you’re going to see in the next few weeks: the Russians will begin to fly combat missions in that region, not just targeting ISIS, but in order to prop up Assad. He will also, then, turn to other countries in the region and say, “America is no longer a reliable ally, Egypt. America is no longer a reliable ally, Saudi Arabia. Begin to rely on us.” What he is doing is he is trying to replace us as the single most important power broker in the Middle East, and this president is allowing it.
That is exactly what happened. How often has that happened in political history? A prediction coming true so immediately?
On a range of other defense and security matters, from the NSA, to rebuilding the military, Rubio’s record is incredibly strong.
Yet, what I keep hearing is that he looks “boyish.” Is that really it? That’s hardly a good measure of a man.