If the Republican Party wants a viable candidate who can beat Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio might be their only choice.
“If Republicans nominate Rubio, they would have an excellent chance to beat Clinton by broadening their party’s appeal with moderates, millennials and Latinos,” David Wasserman writes for FiveThirtyEight.
That’s not a conclusion based on Rubio’s background, campaigning skills, or inherent traits, but a “process of elimination” that leaves Republican voters with no choice.
In matchup polls that ask respondents to choose between Hillary Clinton or the Republican nominee, Rubio fares best compared with Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. Rubio has strong margins among white women, independents, college-educated whites, and seniors. Cruz only beats Clinton among white women and seniors, and Donald Trump loses in all categories to Clinton.
However, polls that are so far out from the November election aren’t so predictive. Nor are campaigns during the primary the same as a campaign in a general election. Major issues change. Candidates moderate their beliefs and policies to attract a broader base of voters. The hot-blooded radical in the primary campaign emerges as a candidate who wants to unite the country.
Favorability matters, however. Donald Trump is extremely unpopular among Democrats and independents, and Ted Cruz struggles with them as well. Marco Rubio maintains a favorable reputation among independents, as do Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina.
Rubio also has a personal history that has led pundits to christen him as the “Republican Obama.” A fresh face in the party and a meteoric rise to national prominence set expectations high.
The barrier to the success of Rubio has been a lack of enthusiasm among Republicans. He’s garnered about 11 percent nationally, but he’s declined from 15 percent support in early December. Splitting the establishment vote with Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie doesn’t help, but were those three to disappear and Rubio collect all that support, he’d double his numbers, but trail Donald Trump and lead Ted Cruz by less than 2 percent.
“Electability” is a fickle trait. It’s hard to predict and easy to lose. It’s especially hard to anticipate when most voters have yet to follow the election or decipher what the candidates believe.
Rubio is a “safe” choice, but so was Mitt Romney. It seems too early to declare that “the Republican Party is on the verge of self-destruction,” even with Trump leading as Iowa and New Hampshire approach. Regardless of campaign strategy concerns, Republican voters will decide the face of the Republican Party come November, come what may.