The Potemkin Candidate

It’s interesting how rapidly a consensus take on Marco Rubio was formed in the chattering classes after his announcement of a presidential candidacy: he’s potentially a strong candidate for the GOP nomination if but only if one or two stronger candidates stumble, and then he’s got a bit of a credibility challenge if he is the nominee because his positions no longer fit his early hype.

An elaboration of the latter issue is the subject of my weekly column for TPM Cafe. Here’a sample:

[I]n order to make himself a viable Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio has had to systematically deny himself most of the impulses that made him a potentially party-changing politician in the first place. What’s left is a Potemkin Village of images and claims that simply are not supported by what the man actually proposes to do as president.

I suppose Rubio could “evolve” some more as the cycle proceeds, though you have to figure he’s already tired from the distance he’s had to travel since comprehensive immigration reform imploded in 2013. And he’s probably, for the moment, comfortable at representing about as much actual change in the GOP’s agenda and message as the old white folks who will vote in caucuses and primaries are willing to countenance.

I cannot peer into the man’s soul, but you get the sense the most “authentic” thing about Rubio is his ferocious foreign policy posture, which is right out of the hottest stages of the Cold War. This could be his quickest ticket to the front tier of 2016 candidates; conservative elites are craving a real bomb-thrower, so to speak, on international issues to keep them warm until Tom Cotton’s ready for his first presidential bid. But Marco the Militarist isn’t the persona that’s going to broaden his or the GOP’s reach beyond the base. In writing my column it kept striking me how ridiculous it was for him to strike all these “candidate of the 21st century” poses while identifying himself so thoroughly with the world view of geriatric Cuban emigres in Miami. On this and other subjects, I just don’t see his act wearing very well on anybody.

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.