This presidential election cycle in many ways feels like a rerun of 2012. Colorful characters who have no chance of winning the Republican nomination are dominating the polls. Candidates who never stood a chance stay in for a quixotic battle for attention. But during 2011-12, we all knew deep down that Mitt Romney was going to be the nominee. What has made 2015-16 more interesting is that there hasn’t been a clear-cut Mitt since Day 1.
Now many people acted like Jeb Bush was inevitable. Sure, he’d be in the middle of the pack for a while, but then he’d break through after the freak shows fell to the wayside. I would argue that the Mitt of 2016 is Marco Rubio.
He’s hanging back right now. He didn’t overextend himself early like Scott Walker. He isn’t trying to marathon all 99 counties in Iowa right now like Rick Santorum or Mike Huckabee. He’s appearing just enough, not getting overexposed, but saying the right things when he does give his speeches and interviews.
Compare the way he handled the Black Lives Matter question vs. other candidates. Look at the way he’s been able to handle Donald Trump, being tough while simultaneously seeming like he’s above it all. It’s telling that no matter who Trump has attacked, he’s been able to get the audience to play along. he was booed when he called Rubio a clown. Of course, Donald Trump calling Marco Rubio a clown is like Ronald McDonald calling Werner Herzog a corporate shill.
Trump loves to talk about polls so let’s talks about them. Rubio is usually third or fourth in this week’s state and national polls, but the top vote-getter among the candidates who’ve actually been elected to public office before. Your top six at this point are Trump, Carson, Fiorina, Rubio, Bush and Cruz, with everyone else fading into the background. Rubio has higher favorable/unfavorable numbers than Trump in every poll. In the most recent NBC/WSJ poll, they asked if voters could see themselves supporting each candidate, or not supporting. Rubio had a 63% support / 27% not support. Trump’s was 47% support / 52% not support.
Rubio also does better than Trump in hypothetical head-to-head matchups. In a recent Fox2 poll in blue-state Michigan, they found that Trump v. Hillary Clinton would be a tie, but Rubio would best her by 3 points. In a PPP poll in red-state North Carolina, Trump would beat Clinton by 5 points but Rubio would beat her by 10.
We’ll get another couple of months of scrutiny on the never-held-office candidates. The numbers for Trump and Carson are already starting to dip, and Fiorina will enjoy some more months in the sun while her record at HP eats away at her reputation. But I’m telling you now, it’s going to be Rubio.