If he throws his hat into the presidential ring, Marco Rubio will run as a staunchly conservative Republican. But one of Rubio’s great advantages is something he has in common with Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
That’s the Bill Clinton of 1992 and the Barack Obama of 2008.
It’s a simple as this: Marco Rubio is new. He hasn’t run for president before. And that, in recent elections, seems to have counted for a lot.
Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all won on their first try for the presidency.
Consider the last two Republican nominees for president. John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 were nominated after unsuccessfully seeking the nomination in previous elections. Their earlier runs built name recognition and added gravitas that helped the candidates ultimately win nomination. But neither could beat Obama.
In 2008, Obama was the “new” candidate, and he beat the arguably better qualified McCain. Of course Obama was an incumbent by the time Romney ran against him. But Romney wasn’t “new,” having run for the GOP nomination before. And there are hints in history that “newness” is the best hope to beat an incumbent. That’s how Bill Clinton beat George H.W. Bush.
In a modified version, that’s how George W. Bush beat Al Gore. In 2000, Bush – although the son of a former president – was “new” compared to Al Gore, coming off two terms as vice president.
But if newness would help Rubio in 2016, wouldn’t it also help Jeb Bush? No, it seems unlikely that Jeb Bush could run as a “new” candidate – though technically he would be. His brother’s two terms still hang heavy over his head. No Bush can be “new.”
Why would Americans pick Bill Clinton over George H.W. Bush or a Barack Obama over a John McCain? Personalities and political circumstances play a role. But there is something irresistible about newness. People who just bought the iPhone 6 already are pining for the iPhone 7.
In politics, newness should not count for more than experience. But sometimes it does.
Certainly Republicans in 2016 will be looking for new faces (sorry, Mitt). And Marco Rubio is one of the best ones they’ve got. Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee are yesterday’s candidates. Chris Christie is new, and so is Bobby Jindal. But Rubio brings Florida, and Rubio brings Hispanics.
If Republicans run Jeb, Democrats might actually do better eschewing Hillary Clinton – who has both run before and bears an “old” name – and choosing a newbie like Elizabeth Warren (although the fate of liberal Massachusetts Democrats has its own recent sobering history; and given Romney’s performance, even conservatives from Massachusetts might be a problem).
If he wants to take advantage of his newness, 2016 is the year for Rubio to take his chances and run for president. Otherwise, he’s probably looking at a wait of eight more years – whichever party wins.
If he bombs out early, Rubio always can slink back to a Senate campaign. If he bombs out late, he could become a serious contender for veep – although that would not be a factor if Jeb is the nominee because of the prohibition against the president and vice president hailing from the same state.
But if the nominee is Christie or Jindal, Rubio would be more attractive than Jeb as veep. For one thing, Jeb might not want to be second banana. For another, Rubio can bring Florida and Hispanics without turning off the Bush-haters.
But Marco Rubio should set his sights on the Oval Office. He’ll never be as new as he is now.
Jac Wilder VerSteeg is editor of Context Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida.