I consider Erick Erickson to be one of the least appreciated conservative commentators out there. He is a smart and disciplined Christian conservative who holds the improved prosperity of Americans in the highest regard. I rarely disagree completely with him. This time, I do.
His article, Marco Rubio As The Most Electable Candidate, makes a declaration rather than making a case. Nothing wrong with that; in-depth articles detailing evidence that supports a premise are less valid in today’s drive-by digital media consuming society. It’s better to get in, get out, and make a statement since fewer people today are willing to read long articles or watch long videos. To keep it fair, I’ll attempt to do the same thing. I could go into great detail about why I think Rubio is the third most electable rather than the most. Erickson could do the same with a long piece supporting Rubio as the most electable.
It should be noted that I support Ted Cruz first with Rubio a distant second… but second nonetheless. Erickson, who has stated that he won’t endorse a single candidate, likes both of them. He’s friends with both of them. That gives his insight a lot more direct influence. I fear, though, that it also adds a personal haze to his discernment.
Rubio is Not the Most Electable This Year
In any standard Presidential campaign cycle, Marco Rubio would clearly be the easiest choice for the Republicans looking for the most electable candidate. If he had been 44-years-old with five years in the Senate under his built in 2008, he would have been a better choice than John McCain and we probably wouldn’t be suffering through the Obama administration right now. The same can be said about 2012. In fact, if you could transpose his current self back to any of the previous five elections, he would have been the likely GOP nominee. He would have done better than Bob Dole in 1996. He would have probably defeated George W. Bush in 2000… you get the picture.
Rubio is a great candidate. He’s the right mix of evangelical fervor, conservative values, and the occasional willingness to get his hands dirty with the Democrats a la Gang of Eight.
Here’s the problem with 2016. He would likely beat Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, but he would have a harder time than Cruz. The reason is in the matchups themselves. He shares weaknesses with the Democrats that Cruz does not share. He still has contrasts, but not nearly as many. For example, one of the digs against Clinton is that she hasn’t been able to accomplish much as a politician. Every Republican candidate has more accomplishments in their lives than Hillary Clinton except for Rubio. Chris Christie pointed this out in the last debate, but it was obviously overshadowed by the RoboRubio exchange. In the general election against Hillary Clinton, she’ll be able to point to more accomplishments in her time in the Senate than Rubio has had in his time. His most notable moment in the Senate was the Gang of Eight bill. When someone is running away from their landmark achievement in government, we have a problem.
Against Sanders, Rubio matches up a little better. An argument can be made that Sanders represents an ideological extreme while Rubio plays better to the masses, but this argument fails to understand the way that Independents vote in the general election. If you were to look at the campaign platforms of every winning President since 1968, George H. W. Bush was the only one who ran on a less-extreme platform than his competitor (and one can argue that his victory was really a mandate for a third Reagan term). Every winning Democrat has run on a platform that was more liberal than his competitor’s platform was conservative. Every Republican winner other than GHWB has run on a more conservative platform. Independents are not necessarily moderates. Many (most?) are simply wanting to be inspired to follow one direction or the other in any given year. Polarizing platforms win general elections.
Perhaps most damaging for Rubio against Sanders is that one of Rubio’s strengths – his appeal to young voters – is all but negated going head-to-head with Sanders.
There’s another ding against Rubio that plays against him matching up against either Democrat. His history of personal finance irresponsibility will be put on wide display in a general election matchup. Sanders is offering free school and will say that, “Not every student will get a book advance of $800,000 to pay off student debts and buy a 24-foot speedboat.” Clinton will be able to wash away her own scandals by pointing out that “Rubio used government credit cards to pave his driveway and go to a family reunion.”
In a sound bite society, their talking points will play well with the electorate. Cruz, on the other hand, will have an unwavering history of conservatism to counteract Sanders’ socialism and a proven record of incorruptability to match up against Clinton’s lifetime of scandal and deceit.
Rubio would have been better than Cruz against Barack Obama, John Kerry, Al Gore, or Bill Clinton. Against either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, Cruz is better suited to take them on because he matches up in ways that Rubio simply doesn’t.