Rubio does have a real issue — a lack of executive experience — but then, so does Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). Rubio’s lack of executive experience is not fixable at this point, but the concocted media storyline — he operates by rote — surely is, since it is not remotely true. There are several things he can do about it.
First, he should take a page from Jeb Bush’s playbook and become entirely accessible to the media. He should be talking to them daily on the stump, in interviews, anywhere and everywhere. Eschew the process-talk and expound on issues, focusing on not just analysis of the problems but also on detailed solutions. Overwhelm the press with depth and spontaneity, and the coverage will change.
Second, be aggressive and freewheeling in the debates. Rubio has too often played defense, waiting to be attacked on immigration or on his experience. Instead, he should aggressively go after Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Donald Trump on national security and their inability to articulate a cogent strategy for defeating the Islamic State. Moreover, neither one of them has a workable tax plan (Trump would add $10 trillion to the debt; Cruz wants a value-added tax), entitlement reform plan (Trump won’t even touch Social Security) or overall growth strategy. Their appeals to nativism and protectionism are anti-growth, akin to the populism of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Rubio should keep at them with the “How?” questions. (How do you beat the Islamic State from the air? How do you grow the economy? How do you save Social Security?) In the assaults on the not-serious-about-policy candidates, he will find some help from both Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Third, steal Kasich’s everyman message. Rubio focuses on the immigrant aspect of his childhood, which is moving and appropriate. He also, however, grew up, if not poor, then decidedly working class. As a man whose parents had no money, he had to work throughout high school and college to get by. Going to college by virtue of a football scholarship, he did not have the advantage of elite education or family connections. It’s a side of Rubio we do not often hear about. It is easy to forget, because he is so polished and so articulate — as opposed to the aw-shucks, slumped Kasich look — that he came from nothing and succeeded by dint of his own smarts, tenacity and persistence. That guy — the working-class kid who never had any advantages — is unknown to most voters. In revealing that side of himself, he will become more relatable and implicitly draw a contrast with two opponents who came from families of wealth and influence.
Rubio remains the best, and perhaps only, candidate who can unite all segments of the party around a smart, compelling and forward-looking message. He dug himself a hole, but in shoveling his way out he may demonstrate the sort of grit and authenticity voters are seeking.