The name of rock star statistician Nate Silver will be forever linked with the results of the 2012 Presidential election. You may recall that against the tide of Republican strategic hubris, and despite rampant voter suppression efforts taking place in communities representing large populations of poor and ethnic constituents, Silver warned the GOP talking heads that Obama was on his way to a sweeping victory. And he was right. In President Obama’s historic conquest over Mitt Romney, Silver correctly predicted the winner of all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. Let’s take a moment to savor once more the epic meltdown of Karl Rove on Fox News as it finally sank in that there was zero chance of a Romney presidency.
It never gets old does it?
In 2010, Silver’s blog, FiveThirtyEight: Nate Silver’s Political Calculus, was presciently licensed for publication by the New York Times. The blog is making news this week with an intriguing post entitled, “Marco Rubio: The Electable Conservative?”
As we know, Rubio is being championed by the beleaguered, delusional and hopelessly out of step Republican Party as the key to returning to mainstream acceptability. Rubio, a Cuban American native of Miami, Florida who rose to prominence after the humblest of beginnings, is seen as the key to making inroads with the nation’s Latino voters. Once a dependable GOP demographic, Latinos have fled the party in droves given its hard-line stance against immigration reform.
Looking to shake the Etch-a-Sketch Romney-style, the GOP has recently attempted to reverse course, proposing to get behind the Dream Act, a plan that would provide a pathway to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants. Though many of the partys’ recommended measures are tied to border security improvements, the changes mark a critical pivot for Republicans – and Rubio is offered by the right as the face of that change.
Tasked with delivering the rebuttal to the President’s well-received State of the Union address last week, we know that Rubio stumbled: awkward, sweaty and apparently very thirsty. Rubio’s performance stirred reminisces of the 1960 televised debate between Kennedy and Nixon that many have theorized cost Nixon the election. But really, it was one of Rubio’s first appearances on the national stage. Is it any surprise his rehashed talking points would fail to excite, set in relief against the President’s smooth and energized delivery? The question remains: given more time to develop, could Rubio pose an electable challenge to Democrats in 2016?
Though Nate Silver presents a wealth of data in his piece (naturally) that points to Rubio’s strengths in a Republican primary, he hedges when discussing the senator’s general appeal against more moderate candidates. Silver writes, “This is not to say that Mr. Rubio is extraordinarily popular. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey has favorability ratings that are much stronger than Mr. Rubio’s, for example.”
Silver goes on to say, “What makes matters tricky for Mr. Rubio is that, at the same time he is hoping to persuade Republican party insiders that he deserves their support, he will also need to maintain a reasonably good image with the broader electorate lest his electability argument be undermined. This may lead to some strange positions, such as when Mr. Rubio recently critiqued President Obama’s immigration proposal despite its many similarities to his own.”
In other words, a Republican candidate of any color may still have to adopt the 2012 losing strategy of Mitt Romney. Go hard right fringe during primary season to secure the nomination, then try to fox trot your way back to the center so you can appeal to the mainstream.
A full three and a half years before the next Presidential election, Rubio is already being setup to fail as John McCain and Mitt Romney did before him. To return to President Obama’s “lipstick on a pig analogy,” the ethnic makeup of a candidate cannot possibly surmount a losing game plan. Americans wised up to Mitt Romney’s say-anything-to-win strategy and the result was a fantastic drubbing.
The silver lining of the continuing pain of the Great Recession is a more engaged voting public with a distaste for overt manipulation. Until the GOP initiates a grassroots revamp of the outdated platform upon which it stands, it is unlikely to place a candidate in the White House. As Silver concludes, “If Mr. Rubio holds a fairly ordinary (and conservative) set of Republican positions, chances are his popularity ratings will wind up being ordinary as well.”