Does it sound like what the Republican Party needs in 2016 is Marco Rubio? In theory, yes. But on examination, the frustrating thing about the third GOP presidential candidate to officially announce is that he falls short of meaningfully embodying any of the potential qualities he is so often thought to represent.
Yes, he has made himself the vehicle for “Reformicon” ideas on boosting lower- and middle-class family income via enhanced tax credits. But he encloses this conservative, inequality-fighting nugget in a big poison pill of new tax benefits for the wealthy, including the complete exclusion of investment income and inheritances from any taxation at all. And the fiscal math of his budget proposals would guarantee cuts in social safety net programs of far greater value than any of the shiny new benefits he proposes.
Yes, he is Latino (and not just by association, like his former mentor and now rival Jeb Bush), and once championed comprehensive immigration reform. But he has so thoroughly repudiated and repented his position on immigration that the only thing left for him to do is to crawl up the steps of the Capitol in sackcloth to kiss the posterior of Rep. Steve King. And he belongs to a Cuban-American demographic that has never shown much empathy for or exerted much influence over more numerous and less conservative Latinos from other backgrounds.
And yes, Rubio is relatively young, looks even younger, and likes to talk of himself as representing a new “twenty-first century” perspective. But he has most recently identified himself with a foreign policy cause that is quite literally a Cold War relic, and one which no one under the age of 60 is likely to appreciate: hard-line anti-Castroism.
You can make the argument that other GOP presidential wannabes similarly depend on smoke and mirrors. Most notably, Rand Paul is thoroughly Janus-faced depending on whether he is talking to African-Americans interested in criminal justice reform, young non-partisans hostile to government surveillance programs, or conservative evangelical home-schoolers who want subsidies to offset those provided to “government schools.” And it’s entirely customary for Republican pols to rely on “dog whistle” appeals to the base they’d prefer swing voters never hear.
But Rubio uniquely stands for the side of the GOP that the party’s image-meisters most want swing voters to see—even as he stands on a philosophy and agenda reminiscent of the 1964 Goldwater campaign. And he clearly hopes to play this double game all the way to the White House.