I can’t pinpoint a moment, but over the past couple months the Conventional Wisdom seems to have congealed around the proposition that Marco Rubio should be the eventual GOP nominee — the fresh-faced, charismatic “establishment” Not-Trump who can, with sufficient effort, unify the party and bring the voters to the polls. (Ted Cruz thought he could be that figure, but it turns out the only way Cruz unifies people is in their vast universal loathing of Ted Cruz.) The perceived problem is finding a winning template, an elevator pitch for primary voters that’ll convince them Young Marco is their best bet. Report from the Washington Post‘s Ben Terris, back in November: “Marco Rubio is just the guy to win the youth vote. Or so the old folks think.”:
COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa — Marco Rubio — he of the unlined cheeks and recently paid-off student loans and strongly felt preference for Tupac over Biggie Smalls— might be just the thing to get young people to come out and vote Republican in 2016.
“I hope that the young people won’t keep being bumfuzzled by Democrats,” said Larry Trickle, a 77-year-old who came to see the senator speak at a Holiday Inn in Council Bluffs this week. “Here’s a guy that can speak their language, and maybe teach them a thing about work ethic.”
Sure, there were only a handful of folks younger than 35 at this ballroom rally packed with a couple of hundred Iowa voters. But to Larry’s wife, Sue, 70, it was a youthful crowd compared with other GOP events she had been to recently.
“You should see them,” she said. “The average age of most is like 70s or 80s. Here, it’s got to be all the way down to the 50s!”…
Rubio, 44, paints himself as the “generational candidate,” one with fresh ideas who can shake up his party and, ultimately, an election. It’s a savvy tactic for turning one of his potential negatives — his inexperience — into a positive. A similar approach worked for Barack Obama in 2008, when he was also a freshman legislator who hated the Senate; he mobilized massive numbers of young people to cast their ballots for him.
But the Florida Republican’s message of youthfulness has not resulted in many youthful supporters so far. In a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, Rubio received 16 percent support from Republicans 65 and older, compared with 12 percent among those ages 50 to 64 and 7 percent among those younger than 50. He might be, as Michael Kinsley famously said about then-Sen. Al Gore, “an old person’s idea of a young person.”…
In mid-December, the Washington Post did a long report on a real-life Miami Vice story from the late 1980s:
…[Orlando] Cicilia, a large, sturdily built Cuban immigrant, had played an intimate role in Rubio’s early life. But as the future senator from Florida was finishing high school and preparing to go to college, his brother-in-law’s illicit career as a cocaine dealer was exposed in a major trial. Cicilia was eventually sentenced to a lengthy prison term in one of the biggest drug cases of Miami’s baroque cocaine-cowboys era.
Rubio, who was 16 at the time of the arrest, does not mention the ordeal as he runs for president, casting his family’s Cuban American immigrant story as the embodiment of the American Dream.
There is no evidence that Rubio or his parents were aware of Cicilia’s drug dealing, and Rubio’s sister was not suspected of any crime. But a deep look at those turbulent years — drawing on previously unreported Drug Enforcement Administration field reports and grand jury testimony, interviews with federal task force agents, and the senator’s writings — reveals that Cicilia was a central figure in the smuggling operation at the same time that he was integrated in the life of the Rubio family.
While the case was widely covered at the time, many details of Cicilia’s top-level role in the smuggling operation have not been previously reported, in part because they were stored in court files that were antiquated and difficult to access, as well as in remote archives. Cicilia served as the “front man” in the drug ring headed by Mario Tabraue, a kingpin who ran an exotic-animals business and kept spotted leopards on the walled grounds of his mansion, according to interviews and court records. Cicilia looked and sounded the part, wearing paisley suits and rakishly calling cocaine “a pretty thing,” according to court records and interviews with lead investigators….
Sure, lots of perfectly acceptable presidential candidates and presidents have had embarrassing relatives. (One facet of Reagan’s ongoing popularity is that he was an only child, so there were no jokes about Libyan envoys or Silverado S&L.) But it would explain why the Romney campaign dropped Rubio’s name from the VP list so quickly — stories about cocaine smuggling and tiger-guarded Caribbean compounds would have been a nasty shock to the Mormon elders. And it left Rubio’s 2016 supporters scrambling for a… somewhat more scuffed-up analog. Hapless Frank Bruni, today in the NYTimes:
… He’s frequently been called the Republican Obama — because he’s young, a trailblazing minority and a serious presidential contender while still a first-term senator.
But a prominent G.O.P. strategist told me that Rubio reminds him more of another Democratic president.
“He’s the Republican Bill Clinton,” the strategist said, referring to the slickness with which Rubio shifts shapes and the confidence with which he straddles ideological divides.
He’s a conservative crusader, happy to carry the banner of the Tea Party. He’s a coolheaded pragmatist, ready to do the bidding of Wall Street donors.
“Rubio is triangulating,” Eleanor Clift wrote recently, choosing a Clintonian verb to describe his fuzzy, evolving positions…
He communicates a message — a gleam — of hope. He’s a smoother salesman and more talented politician than most of his Republican rivals. That’s why I still buy the argument that he’s the one to watch, especially given his party’s long history of selecting less provocative candidates over firebrands…
…[O]ver the last three decades, no Republican or Democrat — with the exception of Bill Clinton — lost both Iowa and New Hampshire and survived that crisis in momentum to win the nomination. If that’s Rubio’s path, it’s an unusual one…
Okay, “Just like our worst enemy, Barack Obama!” didn’t work out so well as a sales pitch. But that Clinton guy — everybody loved Slick Willy, or at least admired his gifts for charming voters, not to mention his talent for escaping every trap set by his many enemies. Surely “our very own Bill Clinton, for the new millennium!” would be the perfect meme to sell Thirsty Young Marco to the committed Republican voters!
If only Rubio could be a little more thirsty, in the Urban Dictionary sense. He just doesn’t seem to want to work at campaigning, the way Bill Clinton famously did. But that’s a whole different issue, for a future post…
— google it yourself (@SeanMcElwee) January 2, 2016