Lots of discussion in the last few weeks about the GOP's rather lame effort to "re-brand" while making as few substantive changes as possible to their rather extreme ideological agenda. Rubio has been taking the brunt this week, thanks to his front-man role on immigration and his risky call to answer Obama's SOTU tomorrow night. In particular, Josh Marshall and Ed Kilgore have had interesting posts on whether Rubio is the Republican "Wes Clark," a guy adored by party pragmatists for addressing one glaring party weakness but lacking the ability to cover numerous other gaping wounds.
As much as I like the comparison, consider me unconvinced. Simple reason: ideology is overrated in determining American electoral outcomes. Not that it doesn't matter. In a close election, ideological extremism can obviously have an impact. Obama was vulnerable in 2012, and a less insane GOP could have fielded a stronger challenge than a Romney with a FOX anchor chained around his neck. As it was, that was (actually) the best they could muster. But that's in a close year. If the economy is weak at all in 2016, this is anybody's game, especially given the difficulty of a party hanging onto the White House for more than two terms. Economic growth 6-12 months prior to the election and time in office are most of the game. The latter cuts to the GOP no matter who they run, and the former is likely to improve (to Dem advantage), but can't be taken for granted. Meanwhile, the Dems have one clear successor to Obama in Hillary--but what if she doesn't run? Or gets another blood clot that's even worse? With a down economy and/or a Clinton withdrawal, the GOP could win even without major ideological concessions. And they could do it with a guy like Rubio who certainly looks the part and seems to have some political chops--more than Wes Clark did, I'd say, although, as some of you may remember, I was an enthusiastic Clarky back in 2004.
So Rubio, whose politics are basically just George W.'s (reactionary on everything except Hispanics), may be a gamble for Republicans, but he's also much less of one than the chaos of challenging the conservative movement's righteous and unwavering claim on absolute truth in all things, American-public-be-damned. I suspect he's making a pretty decent play, both for primary and general, especially given the lack of compelling alternatives in the GOP field.