Marco Rubio — Republican savior.
That’s what the cover this week’s issue of TIME Magazine bravely proclaims. However, for the Florida Republican senator who has been eyeing a 2016 presidential run since before the last election cycle even had concluded, the magazine cover could prove to be a burden in disguise. Sure, Rubio will receive free exposure on the national level that would cost any politician seeking the presidency millions of dollars, but it also means that from now until the 2016 Iowa Caucuses Rubio will likely be political enemy number one for both Democrats and other perspective Republican nominees. And make no mistake, there will be many. The 2016 Republican field has the potential to be one of the deepest in recent memories with names such as Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), former GOP presidential contender Rick Santorum, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice all speculated as possible presidential candidates.
Rubio is a very viable, and very winnable candidate. The young senator has recently (and shrewdly) been laying the groundwork for a presidential run in not-so-subtle ways by establishing a greater presence in Iowa (where a victory helped to propel President Obama to his party’s nomination over Hilary Clinton in 2008), demonstrate his appeal to young voters (which have largely voted Democrat in the last two presidential elections), and showing that he’s ready to lead- despite only two years in the Senate – by being the most visible Republican on the immigration.
Yet Rubio has other characteristics that also make him a prime Republican candidate. He would have automatic appeal to Latino voters who have historically voted Democrat. Rubio, who was elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave also had Tea Party credentials that, judging by last election’s GOP primary, appear to be crucial for any Republican candidate who wants a shot at winning the presidency. Plus, there’s also the fact that Rubio hails from what will likely once again prove to be election night’s biggest swing state. It’s these qualities that led many to bemoan Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan over Rubio as his vice presidential candidate in last year’s election.
But now the GOP stage belongs to Rubio, for good or for ill.
Keep in mind that it’s never easy running as the presumptive favorite in a crowded primary field. Just ask Howard Dean in ‘04 or Hillary Clinton in ‘08, both of whom didn’t capture their party’s nomination. Or even Mitt Romney after a bruising primary season during which he was routinely the punching bag of the rest of the field, inevitably leading him to pivot to the right … a move which eventually lost him crucial votes in the general election.
Now, with more money than ever allowed in politics and with the internet allowing for a more efficient venue for attack-ads than ever, being an early favorite can also mean being an early target. Will Rubio be able to weather another three years of this? Despite his undeniably impressive chops for a presidential run, questions still exist about whether Rubio is too fringe on fiscal issues to appeal to mainstream votes. Conversely, many wonder that the young and vibrant Senator can effectively appeal to the far right on many social issues that have historically been championed by the Republican Party.
And let’s be clear about one thing: Despite TIME’s proclamation of Rubio as the GOP’s “savior,” it will not be a candidate who wins the presidency in three years. It will be a party that is not out of touch with mainstream voters on election day. Despite all of Romney’s political savvy in 2012, he still couldn’t overcome the perception of the GOP as backwards and out of touch with America.
Rubio certainly has the potential to lead his party in the right direction, but he’s not alone in that regard. He faces a crowded race to his party’s nomination and he now is Republican candidate number one, courtesy of the TIME cover. Whether this is a blessing or a burden will be demonstrated over the next three years.