There are two ways to look at the nomination process from a higher-level strategy perspective. The first method is to push for the “most electable” candidate regardless of the matchups. The second method is to analyze the matchups and select the candidate that plays best against the opponent’s weaknesses. Republican primary voters often fall into the first category which is the biggest reason we’ve nominated men like Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney.
Marco Rubio is receiving a lot of buzz as being the Establishment pick, the “most electable” candidate based upon his charm and speaking abilities. Like Romney, he has some compelling talking points and handles himself well under most circumstances (though Chris Christie showed he can easily be shaken in the New Hampshire debate). He is a natural pick for Republicans who really want to win in November, but he’s also the candidate who, based upon history and deeper logic-driven strategy, would be the least effective at beating Hillary Clinton.
When we take a look beneath the superficial strategic surface and analyze what the Republican strategy would be with each candidate, the path to victory for Rubio reveals itself to be the most precarious. He’s a declawing factor; the easiest weaknesses that Republicans can exploit in Clinton are wiped away by a Rubio nomination. Before we go into those declawing factors, let’s look at this as an example of history repeating itself.
In 2012, Mitt Romney was a solid candidate. Well-spoken, politically moderate with conservative leanings, and with stronger optics than Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum, it was easy to see that Romney represented the Establishment’s “most electable candidate” lane. However, Republicans did not look at the matchup. We had in President Obama a glaring weakness that could have been attacked to the point of establishing real fear in the electorate. Obamacare could have been painted as the terrifying, destructive force against Americans that it is turning out to be. The problem is we nominated the architect of Romneycare. We nominated the only candidate who had no credibility on the matter, so we had to take less effective attack routes against Obama. Obviously, it failed.
In 2008, John McCain was a solid candidate as well. He was a uniting force that was diverse enough from George W. Bush to give the Republicans a strong contrast to become the next logical step in a plan to keep America safe after 9/11 and to repair the economic damages that it caused. He was the “most electable” candidate. However, Republicans didn’t look at the matchup. We had an opponent in Obama whose weakness was radicalization based upon his mentors. From Bill Ayers to Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s history was painted by extremists that gave Republicans an easy path to tear him down as a candidate America simply couldn’t trust. Any other candidate would have been able to exploit Obama’s weakness, but Republicans decided to nominate the only candidate that refused to attack. McCain forced a weaker path and that path gave us the first four years of the Obama administration. It wasn’t his fault. It was Republican voters’ fault for falling in line with the Establishment’s failed logic.
You see the trend. For whatever reason, the Republican Establishment enjoys propping up candidates that seem electable on the surface but who have fatal flaws that prevent them from matching up properly with the opponents. Let’s look at Clinton’s weaknesses and see how Rubio matches up against her.
- “Despite 2 decades in politics, Clinton has accomplished very little. Even her surrogates have a hard time pointing to many accomplishments.” – This attack point has been tested by Republican strategists for almost a year and it’s playing very well. People are scratching their heads trying to figure out exactly what Clinton has done. The Republican nominees have all accomplished more in their lives than she has… except for one. In the Florida House and as a US Senator, Rubio has somehow been able to accomplish nothing. Christie pointed it out in the New Hampshire debate. He noted that one of the bills that Rubio pointed out as an accomplishment was a bill that he didn’t even vote on himself. The point was overshadowed by the RoboRubio moment, but if he’s the nominee, the Democrats will highlight the fact that Rubio has done absolutely nothing in his adult life that merits his promotion to President.
- “Her history of personal finance woes and bad decisions make her the wrong person to fix the economy.” – Similar to the lack-of-accomplishments argument that we lose by nominating Rubio, this is another area where Rubio is actually doing worse than Clinton. The Democrats will point out that Rubio used his government credit card multiple times for personal benefits such as paving his driveway and going to a family reunion. They’ll attack his home foreclosure, defaulted student loans, and point to his $800,000 book advance as the only reason he didn’t file for bankruptcy. Then, they’ll note that despite his financial woes he bought an $80,000 boat rather than pay his debts all the way down.
- “She’s a robotic politician who will change her views based upon political expediency.” – Unfortunately, there is very little contrast between Clinton and Rubio here. Both are robotic in their political programming. Both will say one thing and do something different in the future. Both are the epitomes of being a true politician.
In a vacuum based strictly on their policies, Rubio is my second choice. I like him. He’s my fallback. I like many things about him but I know he represents another GOP loss in the general election based on his inability to match up properly. If he were running against President Obama, he would be the best matchup. Coincidentally, if Romney was running against Clinton, he’d be the best matchup. It’s as if Republicans always find themselves in a sports car when we need to haul something while being in a big truck when we need to race. Rubio is one of the worst choices to take against Clinton.
Romney was a good candidate, but he was the only one who declawed the Republicans from attacking Obamacare effectively. Rubio is a good candidate, but he’s the only one who declaws Republicans from attacking Clinton on her lack of accomplishments. Will Republicans ever look at matchups or will they always fall into the “most electable” candidate trap?
Update: Here’s a video discussing the topic.