Walker’s So February–Marco Trending!

I feel like I spend an pretty significant amount of time justifying why it’s okay to write about the 2016 presidential campaign right now, instead of waiting for the field to fully form, or for campaign events to thicken, or even–as some people seem to want–the first delegates to be selected. I’ll say it again: yes, it’s early, and a lot can change, but what’s happening now does matter; the dollars raised, impressions made, and media attention harvested are all part of a picture that’s not yet in focus but isn’t entirely “invisible,” either.

Having said that, this lede from National Review‘s Eliana Johnson, is just ridiculous:

Everybody’s talking about Rubio.” So says a top Republican operative who’s been in touch with nearly every potential presidential campaign, as well as with several top donors.

Jeb Bush’s announcement in December launched both a fundraising juggernaut and an aggressive hiring spree, and Scott Walker’s speech in Iowa the following month lifted Walker to the top of national polls. But a little more than a month later, says the operative, “The Jeb boom is over and people are having second thoughts about Walker.”

The beneficiary in terms of buzz is Marco Rubio, who now has many of the party’s top donors looking at him in a way they weren’t even a month ago. Though Rubio hasn’t made as much noise as his competitors as the 2016 campaign has gotten underway in earnest, his knowledgeable presentations and obvious political talent are nonetheless turning heads or, at least, enough of them. Rubio hasn’t made a big splash, neither building a “shock and awe” campaign like Bush nor delivering a marquee speech like Walker (who afterward seemed almost to be caught off guard by his rapid ascent). Instead, Rubio appears to be gambling on the idea that, in what is sure to be a long primary with a crowded field, a slow-and-steady approach will prevail.

At first I thought this might be a parody of breathless campaign hype, but no, Johnson goes on in this vein for several more graphs, earnestly making the case that Rubio’s slow progress towards the White Hosue is a sign of how fresh he will be when the big moment arrives.

You can make the slow-and-steady case, of course, for anyone who’s not doing that great in the polls. Damn, Bobby Jindal’s got ’em right where he wants ’em! And that George Pataki….

Sure, Rubio could develop into a very big thing eventually. I’ve observed here repeatedly that he seems to have survived his brush with RINO heresy with much lower unfavorables than Christie or Jebbie. He’s got close to a clean slate, though with about half the national support he had back before he became Mr. Immigration Reform.

So as one of Richard Pryor’s street characters, a wino, once said of a young junkie: “The boy’s got potential.” But that’s all he’s got at the moment, no matter how much “buzz” the obviously smitten Johnson wants to impute to him.

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.