This week's GOP debate saw the fortunes of multiple Republican candidates for president rise and fall. Carly Fiorina was vastly considered the winner by media outlets and audiences alike, while most analysts also agreed that Governor Scott Walker failed to resuscitate a sputtering campaign. The hidden story throughout the debate though, was that Senator Marco Rubio was poised and eminently presidential, building on his appeal as the most practical choice for Republican voters to take on Hillary Clinton next year.
Carly Fiorina may have won the debate in the short term, but there's still four months to go until the first actual votes are cast in the Republican primary. Wednesday night's debate indicated that Rubio is in it for the long haul and trying to make the case that he's a real conservative who can really win. Rubio's candidacy is trying to provide GOP voters a best-of-both-worlds scenario, wherein they don't have to choose between ideology and electability. If he keeps performing like he did the other night, that strategy just might work.
Despite being unable to steal the spotlight from Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina, Senator Marco Rubio built on his profile as a serious contender, with appeal to voters outside of the traditional voting base of the GOP. Rubio's strategy proves to be a rare case where the oft-cited fable of the tortoise and the hare, is inspiration for a campaign that might actually win. Unlike most campaigns which claim to be "pacing themselves," Rubio's has a built-in base of support and a naturally talented candidate at the helm. While other candidates are left in the dust for their lack of bombast at televised debates, Rubio can soldier on and suck up the support from the vacuums that they leave behind.
Speaking of sucking up support, Rubio has now eclipsed another Republican candidate as the establishment alternative to Jeb Bush. Governor Scott Walker is hemorrhaging support in the polls, after plummeting from prime position in the summer to numbers as low as two percent nationally. That's a level of support low enough to relegate the Wisconsin Governor to a "kiddie table" debate if it persists.
With walker out of the way, only Jeb Bush is seen as a stronger establishment choice for the nomination. Given Bush's doubters in the primary electorate and invalidation of the political dynasty argument Republicans would love to hit Hillary Clinton with, Rubio might just usurp Bush's throne as frontrunner if he can use his raw debating prowess to knock him out in a debate closer to the first primaries.
Rubio was the youngest candidate on stage Thursday night and it showed. When he speaks, even the most casual of observers can hear that Rubio has a passion and sincerity lacking in the other candidates. His tone was relentlessly positive in the midst of endless personal attacks amongst the other candidates. Rubio was energetic without being pandering and avoided the kind of red meat that candidates throw out to base voters in order to cheaply gain support from the fringe elements of the party.
Actor Kevin Spacey, who plays the ruthless career politician Frank Underwood, on Netflix's House of Cards once claimed that politicians are performance artists, calling them "bad actors." If Spacey is right and most politicians are merely bad actors, then I'd venture to say that Rubio is an Academy Award winner by contrast.
If Rubio persist with this strategy and uses his natural talent to set himself apart from the other candidates in the coming months, the 44-year-old Senator might just win the Republican nomination and perhaps even the presidency.