Today, when I asked a respected GOP national campaign strategist (who asked that his name be withheld) about Marco Rubio emerging as the real winner in Iowa (albeit in third place), he said, “The establishment has been waiting for someone to make a move and now Rubio has made it.”
The good news and the truth is, unlike Trump and Cruz, Rubio does not scare people. Therefore he could be an acceptable presidential nominee, potentially unify the party, and win the White House.
But we are only at the beginning.
In the meantime, Rubio shines on stage and is well-versed in issues, especially foreign policy and immigration to which there are no easy answers. He is a young, dynamic, Hispanic, and confident candidate who seems to be morphing into presidential timber right before our eyes.
More good news is that he is from Florida, which, for many reasons, is what I consider to be 2016’s most influential state.
Now here is a personal story.
Back in November, I attended a large Florida Republican Party event in Orlando. Senator Marco Rubio was there working the VIP crowd before giving the keynote speech. I said to him, “Well, at the very least you will be the VP nominee.” To which he sternly replied, “I don’t want to be VP. If I don’t win I will go into the private sector.”
Rubio’s words impressed me because it showed that he was not planning to play second fiddle to anyone. He was either going to win or get out of the way.
More amusing was that Rubio did not know me or that back in August I wrote the piece, “Five Reasons Why Kasich-Rubio is the Right 2016 Ticket.” That piece made a rational, mathematical, demographic and political case for such a ticket.
Besides Ohio Governor John Kasich going nowhere, now what I find most noteworthy about that piece was the quote from Newt Gingrich. It was near the end and read like this: “I reached out to Newt Gingrich, who was speaker of the House when Kasich served as budget chairman, and he likes the idea, too. ‘A Kasich/Rubio ticket would be very strong. So would a Rubio/Kasich ticket,’ he told me.”
It now appears that Gingrich’s second option might be the right call.
Consider the results of this NBC News Iowa Caucus entrance poll:
The Florida senator was the clear favorite of caucus-goers who were most concerned about electability. He took 43 percent among voters who said winning the general election in November was their most important candidate quality.
Yes, the dreaded “electability” factor. You would think that would be great news, but not in the reddest part of the GOP. Most conservatives hate the word because that was the argument the establishment used to justify and cajole conservatives into supporting John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012.
Therefore, as soon as Rubio wins the “electability crown,” cue the backlash, for that is when Rubio will officially become the “establishment candidate.”
Not so fast.
As Rubio likes to remind people, in 2010, he was the darling of the tea party, who chased the establishment candidate, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, out of the Republican Party four months before the primary. Rubio then went on to win his U.S. Senate seat in a three-way race against Crist, who ended up running as an independent candidate, and Democrat Congressman Kendrick Meek.
Surely, the fact that Rubio is even considered an establishment candidate speaks volumes about how far to the right the Republican Party has shifted.
But compared to Iowa winners Cruz and Trump, he is the establishment.
Now with his momentum coming out of Iowa, Rubio has the potential to rise to the occasion by forcing three establishment governors, Bush, Kasich and Christie, out of the race and seize the leadership mantle as the party’s “mainstream conservative” nominee in the general election.
All that is meaningless at this point in time. What really counts is if Rubio can place second to Trump in New Hampshire, beat Cruz, or even win the nation’s first primary.
If Rubio performs well, he will be the one to watch as the campaign marathon continues — and for this reason: Today I received a call from a non-political friend who prides herself on being independent and lives in a swing state. She said, “I am so glad that Rubio did well in Iowa because I fear that Trump will win, Cruz is nuts and I don’t want to have to vote for Hillary.”
Mrs. Middle America has spoken and all Republican primary voters should listen.
Cross-posted at RedState