Is Rubio the Republican Wes Clark?

I’ve been among those mocking the Savior of the GOP status of novice Sen. Marco Rubio, especially in terms of the false notion that his championship of moderately responsible immigration policies makes him some sort of breath of fresh air, given his consistently extremist positions on most issues. The widespread desire to promote someone to the presidency because they represent the minimal amount of ideological change in an attractive package is not a healthy sign for Republicans.

But Josh Marshall comes at exactly the same phenomenon from a slightly different perspective today: the Rubio boom is the product of a Republican delusion that all they need to win is to address one problem, their weakness among Latino voters. In that respect, if only in that respect, Rubio resembles a 2004 Democratic savior, General Wes Clark, insofar as many of his backers similarly thought he could fire a sliver bullet at his party’s fundamental problem:

[T]here’s no question Democrats seized on Clark in 2003/2004 because his credentials as a retired 4 star general and a combat vet promised to serve as a heat shield to protect them from charges of weakness in an era in which an aggressive national security posture was the sine qua non of national elections.

Nor was Clark the only example. Finding the retired General or combat vet to carry the Democratic banner was a thing for a couple decades — and for obvious reasons: the public consistently rated Republicans better on national security issues.

But nominating a general doesn’t solve the political problem. Ask President Kerry. And neither will nominating Marco Rubio or putting him at the party’s helm.

The bottom line is that if a party has a particular problem with certain issues–and Republicans currently have a lot of such problems–just finding candidates who symbolically address one or two of them won’t necessarily work. But as always, recognizing that temptation and dealing with the underlying problem more directly requires the kind of serious reflection that isn’t presently evident in the conservative movement or its wholly owned subsidiary, the GOP. The maximum electoral payoff for the minimum adjustment in party ideology and message is likely to be what Republicans aim for in the next cycle or two, and this is why pols like Marco Rubio are going to look very golden until the gilded edge wears off.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.