Tuesday, April 14, 2015

by Reed Galen

Days Until Iowa Caucus: 293

Officially Declared Candidates:

·      Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)

·      Sec. Hillary Clinton (D-NY)

·      Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)

·      Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)

·      Dr. Ben Carson (R-MD)

·      Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA)

Quote of the Week: “There's no point to any of this. It's all just a... a random lottery of meaningless tragedy and a series of near escapes. So I take pleasure in the details. You know... a Quarter-Pounder with cheese, those are good, the sky about ten minutes before it starts to rain, the moment where your laughter become a cackle... and I, I sit back and I smoke my Camel Straights and I ride my own melt.” Troy Dyer – Reality Bites (1994)

Welcome to the American Singularity.

Why the Singularity?

·      The presidential nominating process is one in which everything, large and small, is sucked into its gravitational maw, allowing nothing to escape its grasp as events pass through the campaign cycle’s event horizon.

·      There is no more singular political experience on the planet than electing the President of the United States.

·      The United States is still the most free, most prosperous and brightest beacon of hope to billions around the world.

Every action and reaction feeds into this black hole of press coverage, donor reactions, voter sentiment and activist opinions. Nothing goes unnoticed and nothing is forgotten. Legions of reporters, bloggers, opposition researchers, trackers, social media monitoring services, vacuum up every last syllable.

Every week we’ll take a look at the campaign as it unfolds, and how events reflect the campaigns, the issues of the day and the country at large. Have a tip, piece of advice or something to add? Email me – reed@jedburghs.com

This Week: Marco! Polo!

Last night Marco Rubio announced his candidacy for the White House from the Freedom Tower in Miami, Florida. He’s young, he’s got a hip logo and a beautiful family. He’s enjoyed a meteoric rise through Florida’s Republican ranks and to the United States Senate. But at 43, does Rubio have what it takes to be President? Does he have the experience and gravitas to understand the pressure coming his way? He was upbeat and optimistic, but I couldn’t get over the feeling that as good as the words were, there was no more depth to them than the paper on which they were written.

Generation X Arrives On Stage

I’ve written extensively on the trials and tribulations of Generation X in American political life. And while Rubio and Ted Cruz are about the same age, Rubio exudes youth while Cruz reminds me of my grandfather whose favorite quote was “children should be seen and not heard.”

We Gen Xers are the smallest cohort by population – the Baby Boomers and Millenials outnumber us in droves. We are sandwiched between parents we’ll have to take care of around the same time we’re putting our children through college. We’ve been derided our entire lives as slackers, though given how many of were latch key kids, achieved a large measure of self-reliance.

With a candidate like Marco Rubio, Generation X for the first time appears on the national political scene. We’re old enough to remember when there was a Soviet Union and there wasn’t an Internet. We’ve experienced both sides of the greatest technological revolution in human history – and still remember when you actually had to get up to change the channel on the TV.

But Republican primary voters are old. And they may question the wisdom of handing the keys to the Presidential Ferrari to another young, charismatic first-term US Senator for whom lack of experience will be a formidable obstacle. Running a Senate office for four years and asking questions from the committee dais is not comparable to what many others in the field have already done with their careers. Even if voters like Rubio, in grand Republican fashion, it’s an even money bet they decide it’s not yet his turn.

I’ll Have A Venti Drip to Go, Please

I saw another version of the speech Rubio gave yesterday when he was in Orange County, California, earlier this year. The themes and anecdotes were largely the same in both addresses. Both addresses share another trait: An initial low-energy delivery that drained the room of enthusiasm.

My first thought when I saw him in person was that he needed a cup of coffee – but that was a West Coast swing. Team Marco had been planning yesterday for a number of weeks or months. While he clearly has charisma and youthful charm, Rubio will need to ramp up the enthusiasm with which he speaks to crowds – activists need that sort of passion to ignite their own desire to support someone for the White House.

During the course of an 18-minute speech, Rubio took three sips of water. No one might have noticed if he hadn’t displayed the same tic during his ill-fated State of the Union Response performance in 2013. I’m not sure of the causes of, nor the cure for, dry mouth, Rubio appears to need an extra glass of water ahead of big appearances.

  Sen. Marco Rubio sips water during his 2013 State of the Union response.

Sen. Marco Rubio sips water during his 2013 State of the Union response.

More Red Meat Than A Butcher

Rubio spoke in soaring tones at times during his remarks yesterday. But he largely focused on core issues to Republican primary voters. In the space of one paragraph he hit the following red meat issues:

·      Family

·      Pro-Life

·      School Choice

·      Iran and Israel

·      Military Spending

·      China and Russia

·      Central and South America (local stores only)

Rubio is positioning himself as the leader of the Reform Conservatism caucus in the primary field. His rote recitation of hard core conservative issues felt like a sprint to check boxes as quickly as he could to get back to the optimism that marked most of his speech.

The Next Anti-Jeb (Forward and Backward)

With Rubio’s entry into the presidential sweepstakes, the next “I’m Not Jeb Bush” candidate has arrived. Rubio and Jeb share a long relationship in Florida politics but the younger man is unwilling to cede an open playing field to his mentor. The core of the speech centered on duality – forward vs. backward; borne of privilege vs. borne of immigrants. The ideas of yesterday should be left in the past, and those espousing them should move out of the way for a new generation, creating a “New American Century.”

The narrative is one that can potentially work for Rubio – while allowing him to make Jeb and Hillary Clinton look like out of touch, old, white, plutocrats. The American Dream, whatever it may mean to individual citizens, was alive and well in Rubio’s speech – he and his family have lived it. Whether he can convince millions of dollars and millions of voters to join him on his journey remains to be seen.

The Trap of Office

Yesterday, Marco Rubio announced he is running for president. Today, he’s back at work in the Senate. Legislators, unlike governors, or those out of office, have to scramble their schedules and travel plans to show up for votes. As Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) controls the Senate’s agenda, he can insure that the big stuff, like debates, doesn’t fare too poorly. But there will be times when Rubio, Paul and Cruz are sitting, waiting for a cloture vote while their current and future opponents are at the fish camp pressing the flesh with voters.

For Rubio, his time on the trail is that much more valuable. He has a lot of work to do. He must introduce himself, share his vision and then convince many professional activists and voters that he’s the person to take the GOP and the country deeper into the 21st century. That is no mean feat.

Author’s Note: This series is not in any way related to Harold Hyman’s American Singularity – The 1787 Northwest Ordinance, 1862 Homestead and Morrill Acts and the 1944 GI Bill.