Why is it that so many people think Rubio has such potential? There are at least seven reasons.
1. His strong suit is foreign policy and the 2016 election may be the most focused on foreign policy in our lifetime. He knows his stuff and can deliver his message with crispness and passion.
2. He is the most dynamic speaker in the GOP. Period.
3. The worse Hillary Clinton looks, the more the GOP may appreciate the contrast he provides — young, endearing, not wealthy, no sense of entitlement. At CPAC when he said, “America doesn’t owe me anything. But I have a debt to America that I’ll never be able to repay,” it was about as far from the Clintonian imperiousness as one can get.
4. He has something to say on domestic policy other than cutting marginal rates. As others have noted, his expansive agenda very much rooted in reform conservatism makes him the most intellectually creative Republican out there.
5. With a low-key delivery, he can be funny and self-deprecating. Several of the other candidates seem like pompous stuffed shirts or else dour by comparison.
6. He is forceful without seeming mean or petty. If the party is looking for someone with a happy countenance he is one of the happier warriors.
7. With Jeb in the race (also with a pro-immigration reform stance) and Rubio’s emphasis on border security first, Rubio’s role in immigration reform legislation does not seem to be a nonstarter. By contrast, the promise of luring Hispanic voters into the race pleases voters most concerned about electability.
Like every candidate he has weaknesses, and some of them are the flip side of his strengths. With youth comes less experience and with a friendly demeanor come questions about his toughness and ability to throw a punch. But politics is graded on a scale. And with concerns — real or imagined — about Bush and Walker, Rubio may well be the candidate best positioned to move up if/when one or both falter. There is no Rubio “fatigue” or concerns about his grasp of foreign policy. He has stuck to his guns on immigration (willing to address border security first, but ready to reform the system and deal with those already here). His biggest challenge may be in finding an early primary where he can do well, but if he makes it through February 2016 he will be formidable.
UPDATE: A Rubio supporter points out that Rubio has a total of 14 years of elective experience in local, state and federal government. While in the Florida state legislature for eight and a half years, eight of these were in leadership posts. The supporter also argues that Rubio ran a staff of 300 employees as speaker of the state House. People can debate the extent of his executive experience, but he would be wise to make his case and talk about his major accomplishments before he got to the U.S. Senate.