He shouldn't be.
The fact remains that Rubio, more than anybody, is the guy Republicans should want to earn the nomination. That's not to say that he's definitely their best candidate — just that he's the one with the most of what is described by pro-sports draft analysts as "upside."
And it's not just because he's young, a gifted messenger, Hispanic and comes from a swing state. All of those things are important to making Rubio the GOP's upside candidate, but it's also because he's the kind of guy who could — in theory, at least — unite a fractured Republican Party.
Case in point: a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.
Although Rubio hasn't been at the top of GOP primary polls for many months, the new poll shows he's the guy most Republicans could see themselves voting for. Fifty-six percent of Republicans say this about Rubio, and while that's hardly a resounding number, it's more than what anybody else received.
By contrast, 49 percent say they could see themselves voting for Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) or Bush, the nominal front-runner. Just 40 percent say they could see themselves backing Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), and just 32 percent say the same of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
And while about four in 10 Republicans say they can't see themselves voting for Paul, Bush and Cruz, and 57 percent say the same of Christie, just 26 percent say they can't see themselves backing Rubio.
The only candidate who can come close to matching Rubio's upside is, in fact, Scott Walker. While 53 percent say they could see themselves backing the Wisconsin governor, just 17 percent say they can't. Nobody else is even close to being a potential consensus GOP candidate — at least at this very early juncture.
And there's a reason Rubio and Walker have that distinction. It's because they have both ties to the GOP establishment and conservative bona fides. While Bush and Christie are very much establishment guys, and Paul and Cruz are much more aligned with the tea party, there's something about Rubio and Walker for everyone to like.
And we would argue Rubio has even more upside than Walker, because of some of the intangibles mentioned above.
To reinforce, this is all in theory. Once Rubio got into the 2016 campaign, his actions on immigration would quickly be at issue with conservatives. And there's always the matter of, you know, building a campaign that is capable of actually winning the nomination. Rubio has lots of work to do re-asserting himself as a frontrunner.
But in a party that is defined by infighting, Rubio is somewhat above the fray. Or, at the least, he's got fewer built-in enemies and a higher ceiling at the outset.
If he can capitalize on this potential, we might again start talking about Rubio as a leader of the GOP pretty soon. And if he could make that happen, his party would probably be better for it.