Marco Rubio, ready to run

We’re still in the very early stages of 2016 presidential contenders lining up at the starting gates.  We’re not even out of the stage where every remotely plausible candidate refuses to rule out a run.  The answer to “Are you running for president?” is always met with assurances that many fine people will be competing for the Republican nomination, and the person non-answering the question is certainly qualified to be among them.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) provided a masterful example of the early-stage “maybe” on ABC’s “This Week,” with the added tidbit of substance that if he does run, he will not simultaneously seek re-election to the Senate.  “I believe that if you want to be President of the United States, you run for president,” Rubio told ABC’s Jonathan Karl.  “You don’t run for President with some eject button in the cockpit that allows you to go on an exit ramp if it doesn’t work out.”

That’s the deluxe bacon-wrapped super-sized version of “maybe.”  If Rubio does run, you can bet those sentiments will be used to up the ante for any potential Republican opponents who currently hold office.  In other words, just about all of them.

To some extent, Rubio is fighting to recover from Early Front-Runner Syndrome, in which the first name on everyone’s lips after the last election gets clobbered the moment he steps into the arena as his party’s presumptive next champion.  Rubio alludes to this by joking that he got “jinxed” by appearing on the cover of Time Magazine.

But the larger problem Rubio grapples with is no mystery: his investment in the “Gang of Eight” immigration proposal cost him dearly with the very same grassroots conservatives who were so excited about his presidential prospects.  He made a forthright investment of political capital in the endeavor, by putting himself front and center in conservative media outlets as the Republican face of immigration reform.  It didn’t work.  In fact, it would be tough to make the case that Rubio’s efforts really moved the needle on immigration reform at all.  Amnesty, under whatever euphemism it is given, remains a Ruling Class obsession with little resonance among the general public, while generating considerable distrust from much of the Republican base.  It’s not terribly surprising to find Rubio paying a price with grassroots conservatives as a result.

He needs the right opportunity to make a strong comeback with conservatives.  Rubio says some of the right things during his ABC interview, including strong criticism of Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi performance and President Obama’s climate-change initiative, but of course those are things we might expect most of his Republican primary opponents to say, too.

Rubio staked out some positions in favor of school choice, and against Big Business-Big Government cronyism, at a speech in New Hampshire on Saturday, reported by Fox News Latino:

Rubio focused on creating opportunities for the working class, saying, ???The truth is our wages haven’t kept pace with the cost of living in America. The solution to that is not more government. It???s robust economic growth that creates not just new jobs but better paying jobs???40 percent of new jobs created in America under the Obama presidency have paid less than $16 an hour.???

Rubio also pointed a finger at big business. ???Big companies may not like big government, but they can afford to deal with it. They can higher the best lobbyist in Washington to help write those regulations. They can hire the best lawyers in America to find loopholes in those regulations. But if you???re starting a new business out of the spare bedroom in your home you can???t do that.???

He added, ???There are thousands of companies that were never born because they could not comply with the regulations they were buried underneath.???

The Florida senator drew roaring applause when he spoke about school choice for underprivileged families and a parent???s right to advocate for his or her children.

Rubio made reference to a New Hampshire parent who was arrested at a school meeting for breaking a two-minute speaking limit, saying we should be ???giving the parents a right to speak out about their children???s education at a meeting without being arrested.???

These are issues where few of Rubio’s prospective 2016 presidential rivals would strongly disagree, but the key is to become the best spokesman for party consensus items.  He did a nice job on cronyism in New Hampshire, making an excellent point about all the companies that never come into existence because of the regulatory burden that established operations can afford.  And it’s encouraging to see he can still draw roaring applause.  Senator Rubio still has everything that made him a rising star after he reached the Senate, and he might demonstrate enough crossover appeal to win both Establishment support and grassroots energy… if those grassroots activists are willing to look past the immigration-reform mess.  Much will depend on the state of “comprehensive immigration reform” when the Republican primary gets into full swing, and candidates no longer answer the “are you running?” question with carefully crafted “maybes.”