But let me conclude with one that seems a little more likely: a rerun of Bush’s 2000 path, in which Marco Rubio wins by uniting religious and moderate conservatives.
Rubio had a tough 2013, thanks to his unsuccessful immigration push, and he lacks the ideologically committed support of a Paul or Cruz or Huckabee. But his domestic-policy forays (first on poverty, soon on taxes) have gotten smarter since the immigration debacle, and events in Venezuela and Crimea may be making his hawkish foreign policy vision more appealing to conservatives.
Douthat isn’t predicting that this will happen, nor does he think Rubio is a favorite to win, but it’s still a scenario worth thinking about a little more. Does it make sense that Rubio would appeal to “somewhat conservative” (or “moderate conservative”) voters? These are the voters that have reliably supported the eventual nominee in recent decades, and they represent, as Olsen puts it, “the bedrock base of the Republican Party.” It might be helpful to review what it means for a voter to be “somewhat conservative.” This is how Olsen described this group:
They like even-keeled men with substantial governing experience [bold mine-DL]. They like people who express conservative values on the economy or social issues, but who do not espouse radical change. They like people who are optimistic about America; the somewhat conservative voter rejects the “culture warrior” motif that characterized Pat Buchanan’s campaigns. They are conservative in both senses of the word; they prefer the ideals of American conservatism while displaying the cautious disposition of the Burkean [bold mine-DL].
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Olsen’s description is right. Does it sound as if Rubio would be the sort of politician to win over these voters? Based on what we have heard from Rubio since he entered the Senate three years ago, I think the answer is no. While his immigration waffling might not put these voters off, he seems likely to drive these people away with much of what he has done since being elected. It’s debatable whether he could be called “even-keeled,” but I don’t think anyone will try to argue that he has substantial governing experience. Rubio’s views on foreign policy don’t seem likely to appeal to people that value a cautious disposition, since those views are more likely to be reckless and confrontational in nature.
The conservatives that might find Rubio’s pugnacious rhetoric on foreign crises attractive are also likely to view his fumbling on immigration with the least sympathy, while many of those that might cut him slack on the latter are likely to regard his foreign policy worldview with a mixture of bewilderment (how can anyone believe this nonsense?) and horror (imagine the damage he could do if he were president). This might not be as much of a problem if Rubio had been in office longer, or if he were well-known for anything other than pushing an unpopular immigration bill and demagoguing foreign disputes, but he hasn’t and he isn’t. He has the liabilities of Bush in his second term–identified with an unpopular position on immigration and an expensive, ideological foreign policy–without most of the advantages that Bush had as a candidate the first time.