A few days ago, Matthew E. Miller put forth the argument that likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney should select Gov. Bobby Jindal to be his running mate in the fall. While I don’t necessarily disagree with MEM’s analysis, I think that an equally strong case can be made that Gov. Romney should look to the Southeast when choosing his running mate, and should focus specifically on the Sunshine State’s junior senator.
Elected to the United States Senate at age 39, Marco Rubio is proof that while the American Dream often appears to be on life support, it is far from a quaint remembrance. Sen. Rubio, a first-generation Latino American, is the son of Cuban immigrants who fled Castro’s archaic Communist dystopia for all that America had to offer. Emanating from these humble roots, Sen. Rubio is evidence that America is still the sort of place in which acts of will, not accident of birth, can determine one’s destiny. The senator’s curriculum vitae includes a law degree from the University of Miami and four terms in the Florida House of Representatives, culminating in Rubio’s election to serve as Speaker.
Additionally, in contrast to many of this year’s cast of characters in the quest for the GOP presidential nomination, Sen. Rubio’s personal life is eminently normal. His first and only wife, Jeanette Dousdebes Rubio, is a former cheerleader who has given birth to four children, all of whom the Rubios are raising in West Miami. This sort of personal life is much closer to that of the average American than the exploits of Herman Cain or Newt Gingrich.
Moreover, Rubio serves in the Senate as junior senator from the State of Florida, a state that looks increasingly like America as a whole. In the months and years leading up to the 2008 election, the question of whether America would accept “someone like Barack Obama” was an open question, as only the voters of midnight blue Illinois had given their imprimatur to Obama, with the former senator’s only opponent being the rather hopeless Alan Keyes. In Sen. Rubio’s case, however, a large, diverse, pluralistic purple state has awarded the senator fully 50 percent of the vote in a three-person race, with his opponents including the former Florida governor, Charlie Crist, and a White House-backed Democratic nominee, Kendrick Meek. Rubio faced real opposition in a state that could easily be viewed as a microcosm of the nation as a whole, and he won with a margin that was downright Reaganesque.
But Rubio’s success in winning over the voters of Florida does not simply make the senator a selection designed to shore up the state that gave us several months of “Bush v. Gore.” From Virginia to Florida, the Southeastern United States is experiencing dramatic demographic changes, changes that have turned these once reliably red states into purple states, and that have transformed the Old South into the New South. While the traditional South was initially settled out of port cities such as that of Charleston, South Carolina, the Palmetto State electorate is now more likely to vote for Nikki Haley than Strom Thurmond. The “good ‘ol boy” network of the South has been shattered in these states, as transplants from decaying Northern states inundate the hubs of Northern Virginia, North Carolina’s Research Triangle, Charlotte, Atlanta, and, various other centers of the New South’s new economy. It was no mystery, then, why John McCain lost three of the five states in the string of Southeastern states ranging from Virginia to Florida, and won South Carolina and Georgia by only single digits. Rubio, as someone who has been approved by the Southeast, who represents the Southeast, and who understands the Southeast, would be able to help win the Southeast at the national level.
Just as important as the Southeast to Republicans in 2012 and beyond is the Southwest, another region that is seeing demographic changes, and in which elections will be determined by Hispanics and younger, educated whites more and more as time goes on. It is quite possible that, as a 40-year-old first-generation Latino American, Sen. Rubio will be able to connect with Southwestern voters on a cultural level in a way that few others in national politics today could. Further, the idea of a Latino American ascending to the vice presidency would excite the nation’s Hispanic community in a similar manner as Barack Obama’s candidacy energized African Americans. Astute observers of politics often dismiss the politics of identity, but the reality is that fathers of any group, ethnicity, or religion want to believe that their sons can grow up to one day be president.
Finally, in the event that President Obama manages to win re-election to the White House, Sen. Rubio’s almost certain impressive performance as Gov. Romney’s running mate will set Rubio up as the titular head of the party and as heir apparent going into 2016. As a conservative who appeals to all wings of the GOP, Rubio would be able to do what Sarah Palin’s supporters believed that she would do after Sen. McCain’s loss in 2008: become the public face of the Republican Party and the conservative movement going forward. But unlike Palin, Rubio has the ability to do just that, and to do so in a positive, constructive way that will appeal to Americans of all stripes due to Rubio’s aforementioned personal traits and demographic and geographic strengths. It’s very possible that, if Romney loses, Rubio will be leading his potential 2016 opponents in polls of Republican primary voters by leaps and bounds as early as 2014. And after two terms of Obama, absent a run by Hillary Clinton, which is unlikely in the event of an Obama win, the Democrats will have few if any promising presidential prospects, and the nation will be ready to turn the White House back over to the Republicans, especially a Republican like Marco Rubio.
For all of these reasons, I believe that Sen. Marco Rubio would make an ideal running mate this year for Gov. Mitt Romney, and I hope that Romney gives strong consideration to a Rubio selection.