A young, handsome, grateful man makes a splash with an appreciative crowd looking on and millions watching at home with a victory against much older and more experienced competitors. It happened on Sunday with Jordan Spieth at the Masters, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) hopes it happens beginning today, when he announces for president.
Whether it is the Masters or the Apple Watch, Americans like what is new, fresh and fun. They want to be excited by someone who seems deserving of good fortune. They like to root for the nice guy. As The Post puts it, golf “desperately needs a next great star,” and Spieth, with raw talent and personal rectitude (“confident but not arrogant, smart but eager to learn, ferociously competitive but, for his age, remarkably in control of his temper . . . with a sense of non-entitlement”) seems ready to deliver.
So, too, with the GOP, which needs a makeover, not only generationally but also in tone, in focus and in the charisma category. Even the young men (e.g. Sen. Ted Cruz) seem older than they are and certainly embody the angry, harsh attitude for which Republicans have been pilloried. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (who could well be on a ticket with Rubio, in either the top or supporting role) is the “everyday” American Hillary Clinton can only describe abstractly. Walker is tenacious and pugnacious, qualities Rubio has not shown. Rubio, however, has plenty going his way. He has not been on the national stage forever, has a gee-whiz enthusiasm about him and is skilled to a degree we have not seen since Bill Clinton was in his prime. His passion is genuine, especially when it comes to fighting tyranny and pushing for the accessibility of the American dream. A son of immigrants who fled repression can express a keen awareness of the nature of repressive regimes and a hagiographic view of the United States. (At the Conservative Political Action Conference, Rubio declared, “See, America doesn’t owe me anything. I have a debt to America that I will never be able to repay. . . . For me America isn’t just a country, it’s the place that literally changed the history of my family, it’s a nation of equal opportunity, it’s the most powerful force for good the world has ever known.”)
Rubio will need to show a sense of command and make the case that he has executive leadership skills, if not experience. And he will have to make the case that he is the one to unite the party behind a platform of conservative reform. There is something nervy but also intriguing about his going up against Jeb Bush. Bush’s presence, ironically, may help him, both in providing a contrast in age and in absorbing some of the blows from anti-immigration types. But that story line is of limited value to Rubio. He must be his own man, beating all comers.
As the greatest political talent in either party, Rubio will have his shot. He must show he is tough enough to throw a punch and resilient enough to take one. We’ll soon find out if he is the “next great star” the GOP desperately needs or if he is in over his head. I’m genuinely curious to find out.