November 5, 2015
Marco Rubio already has a running mate. If you think he’s being presumptuous, picking one before he’s won a single delegate, don’t blame him. This is an arranged political marriage, one he has no say over.
The mate in question is Speaker Paul Ryan. No, he’s not formally on the ticket as he was in 2012, but he will have more influence this time, both on the nomination and potentially the general election.
Bill Kristol and other mainstream conservatives have pointed out the potential draw of having two well-spoken conservatives in their mid-40s speaking for the party. Particularly against Hillary Clinton, it’s a nice contrast, and it’s not hard for GOP voters to picture the duo working together from opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue in 2017.
But will they get to? Much of this is dependent on Ryan, not Rubio. While Marco obviously has some responsibility for his own campaign, he’s also chained to Ryan as the new speaker attempts to prove Rubio’s case.
Any younger presidential candidate is an exercise in projection. It’s hard enough to determine how a 70-year-old will do, but someone like Rubio runs more on promise and ideas than accomplishment.
Given that even President Obama’s most fervent admirers aren’t expecting to see him as the 5th face on Mount Rushmore, this is particularly important now. Even if GOP voters reject characterizing Rubio as Republican Obama, some Independents may have the concern.
Beyond this is the larger concern of whether Rubio’s approach and form of conservatism is right for 2016. Ted Cruz in particular will argue it is not. Should Rubio advance out of the establishment bracket, while Cruz is the insurgent finalist, the main argument is whether the relatively more accommodating Rubio is a better choice than the more consistent if less collaborative Cruz.
This hypothetical contest would kick off in earnest next March, by which time Ryan will have the makings of a track record in the house, beginning with a December 11 deadline to fund the government.
If Ryan is seen as fundamentally successful it’s a huge tie-breaker for Rubio. It would prove two things. First, that it is possible for Republicans to win, either in the court of public opinion or with actual conservative legislation without burning the House down.
Second it would indicate a slightly rightward shift on policy, combined with major communication improvement is enough. As Ryan is to Boehner, Rubio is to Romney.
However, if Ryan is ineffective, either by failing to improve the image of House Republicans or failing to make any legislative progress toward GOP objectives, Cruz can argue Rubio is not strong enough to bring real change.
He would have a legitimate case that compromise is a dead end, giving Democrats the idea they can wait Republicans out and get their way. Cruz would effectively seek to go to the country the way party leaders do in parliamentary governments and seek a mandate for the whole conservative program.
If Ryan is making legit progress, this is very risky, especially for down-ballot candidates. If he’s not, Republicans can argue there isn’t much to lose. Some more conservative establishment Republicans would find it safer to throw in with Cruz than face a full revolt.
The unofficial running mate principle still applies if Rubio would face Donald Trump or Ben Carson in a run-off of sorts. If Ryan succeeds, there is benefit in political experience. Much like Rubio (and Cruz for that matter), Ryan is a career politician. Though only 45, he’s spent almost two decades in the House. He’s the youngest speaker since 1880, but nowhere near the least experienced.
The better he does, the weaker the argument for a total novice. Especially if Ryan gets off to a quick start, it reminds GOP voters that it’s just a matter of getting the right politician in, not avoiding all of them.
Awkwardly for Cruz, he needs Ryan to fail to succeed without completely imploding. If things fall apart too quickly, if the House is already in disarray by New Year’s, voters will wonder how Carson or Trump could make things worse, possibly costing Cruz the chance to face Rubio.
Speaking of which, though he’s well positioned and picked up the endorsements of three senators this week, Rubio doesn’t have a pass to the finals just yet. It’s unlikely Rubio can or will risk winding up on Ryan’s left in a December D.C. showdown.
If Ryan does poorly and some perceive the cause was giving in to the Freedom Caucus, comparatively moderate voters would likely prefer Jeb Bush or Chris Christie. The New Jersey boss is particularly well positioned to benefit as he is seen as both more moderate and less likely to give in to insurgent Republicans.
Let’s say Marco and Paul do well enough over the next several months to get Rubio nominated. The House has already scheduled a lengthy summer recess. Early fall is regularly set aside for campaigning as all members are up for election.
We already know there isn’t much distance between Ryan’s policy prescriptions and agenda and Rubio’s. Neither need to make many accommodations or modifications to stay in synch. Each have plenty of reason to want the other to succeed.
Democrats would run against the Ryan Congress as much as against a potential Rubio Administration. Repeal of Obamacare, entitlement reform and a host of other major issues would be on the table.
Though victory isn’t guaranteed, Republicans would benefit from having an extra voice in the fight, as Ryan would find himself more visible and more connected to his nominee than Nancy Pelosi.
Particularly if framed as a generational change election, the Pelosi/Clinton combination is unlikely to inspire the youthful masses. Not only are they no Obama, they aren’t Bernie Sanders either.
A GOP victory, even if relatively narrow at the presidential level would confer a big mandate as long as most House seats are retained. In 2008, Pelosi and Harry Reid were GOP targets, but it was hard to really link them to the fresh-faced Obama.
This round is different. Separating Rubio from Ryan is impossible. The good news for Republicans is if Rubio wins the nomination they won’t want to.