If you think of the candidates in the 2016 Republican presidential field as stocks (and I do), buying shares of Sen. Marco Rubio right now is a smart investment.
There’s little doubt that Rubio (R-Fla.) is selling low right now because of his involvement in the Senate’s passing a comprehensive immigration reform proposal, a role that transformed him from hero to turncoat in the eyes of many conservatives. But consider:
●Rubio’s outspokenness on the necessity of an aggressive foreign policy puts him squarely in line with where the GOP establishment sees itself — and sets up a stark contrast with the non-interventionism of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
●Rubio is the most naturally talented Republican in the 2016 field, with the possible exception of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. And, in a presidential race, charisma and natural ability matters — a lot.
●Aside from immigration, which will continue to be a problem for Rubio with some parts of the GOP base, his record is decidedly conservative. (He was the 17th most conservative senator, according to National Journal’s 2013 vote ratings.)
●He can likely raise the tens of millions he would need to be competitive in the first few states thanks to his national reputation among major contributors and his base in the donor-rich state of Florida.
Add it up and the path for Rubio to be one of the last men standing becomes not only clear but relatively plausible. (This all assumes former Florida governor Jeb Bush chooses not to run. If Jeb runs, Marco won’t.)
I think of Rubio of late is like the 2013-2014 Kentucky men’s basketball team. The Wildcats started off the season ranked No. 1 in the country, a standing almost exclusively based off of the talent the team had on paper. Once games started to be played, however, the team stumbled and even dropped out of the top 25 nationally. But, when the NCAA tournament came around, Kentucky’s talent — coupled with lessons learned from their up-and-down season — shone through. They made it to the championship game before losing to Connecticut. That arc is one I could easily see Rubio taking.
Below I rank the ten candidates considered most likely to wind up as the GOP presidential nominee in 2016.
Breaking news: The race will change (and then change again) between now and when Iowa voters cast the first ballots of 2016.
10. Rick Perry: There’s no question the Texas governor wants to run again after what was a disastrous 2012 bid. And, from what we can tell, he’s improved this time around. The problem? You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
9. Paul Ryan: The Wisconsin congressman’s recent trip to Iowa is a sign that he is at least thinking about running. Ryan knows that the 2016 race is the “right” one for him in terms of his profile within the party, but the more people we talk to, the more convinced we become that in his heart of hearts, Ryan wants to be the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
8. Mike Huckabee: No one in Washington political circles mentions the former Arkansas governor when talking about the 2016 field. That’s a mistake. Huckabee remains a revered figure among social conservatives and, as such, would be a factor if he runs.
7. Bobby Jindal: The Louisiana governor is running as aggressively as anyone on this list. His rollout of an alternative health-care plan to the Affordable Care Act is the latest example of his attempt to seize the “ideas guy” slot in the race. Jindal’s problem? He’s got a bit of a charisma deficit.
6. Ted Cruz: There’s no doubt the senator from Texas has between 10 and 15 percent support in each of the earliest voting states. But, can Cruz expand beyond his hard-core tea party base into other parts of the party?
5. Scott Walker: Wisconsin’s governor, on paper, belongs slightly higher on this list. Elected to a Democratic-leaning Midwestern state, his fight against public employee unions turned him into a national conservative hero. But, we’ve heard more and more whispers of late about whether has the personality to light the Republican electorate on fire.
4. Chris Christie: The New Jersey governor is wounded from “Bridge-gate,” but it’s not a death blow. What he has lost is primacy as the establishment alternative to the likes of Paul, Cruz and Huckabee. That is now a wide open slot with Christie working to convince donors that he remains the most electable person in the field.
3. Marco Rubio: See above.
2. Rand Paul: The senator from Kentucky is running, and running hard. His assets are known: a committed fundraising and activist network left over from his father’s presidential campaigns and a libertarian-tinged Republicanism that can, theoretically, expand the GOP. So are his weaknesses: views on foreign policy that may well be unpalatable for the party establishment and some associations that won’t play well nationally.
1. Jeb Bush: If the former Florida governor runs, he starts the race as the front-runner. The race becomes defined by Bush and whoever emerges as the anti-Bush or Bush alternative.