So the thinking person’s conservative political analyst, Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics, comes up with a fascinating counterfactual scenario on Twitter:

There are obviously a lot of planted axioms embedded in the hypothesis. Rubio would have presumably faced Republican gubernatorial front-runner and party warhorse Bill McCollum in the gubernatorial primary, with his movement conservative street cred chasing off Rick Scott or pushing Scott into the Senate race. Had he won the primary (without the vast personal fortune Scott was able to use to croak McCollum), he probably would have been able to beat Alex Sink in the general election, but would have had also to win a comeback bid by Charlie Crist last year–again, without Scott’s bottomless cup of funds.

Had he survived all that, then he could have entered the 2016 presidential contest without the disastrous association with comprehensive immigration reform legislation that damaged him so much in places like Iowa, and with a “job-creating” record (coinciding, as it did for Rick Scott, with Florida’s cyclical recovery from a particularly bad recession and housing crisis) to rival Rick Perry’s. Moreover, with as much time at the wheel in Tallahassee as his one-time mentor, Jeb Bush, Rubio could credibly claim to have superseded him entirely as Florida conservatives’ gift to the world–especially if he still managed to build a relationship with the Reformicons.

Yeah, I think Sean’s got a point. I don’t know that a Gov. Rubio would be “unstoppable” in 2016. But he’d probably be in a vastly better position than he is today.

If you have any other interesting counterfactuals for 2016, feel free to describe them in the comment thread.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.