While most Americans experience election fatigue weeks before the election even occurs, the media never ceases to speculate about the next presidential election. Who will run? Will the demographic alignments change? Who will win? It is fun to ask these questions, but difficult to answer them due to the sheer temporal distance between now and 2016. This has not stopped some media outlets and commentators from pegging Florida senator Marco Rubio as the front runner for the Republican nomination. If the Republican Party wants to lose in 2016, they should run Rubio. If they want to win, they should run Jon Huntsman.
Rubio has just begun his second year in Congress at the age of forty-one. While lacking any true, concrete connection to the organization, he has been a Tea Party darling since his 2010 senatorial campaign. With a conservative score of fifty-one on Nate Silver’s Conservatism index, Rubio ranks more conservative than every 2012 Republican primary candidate except for Minnesota representative Michelle Bachmann. On big issues, he is almost indistinguishable from most of the other Republican conservatives. He opposes abortion, holds there is no constitutional right to privacy, supported an amendment to ban same-sex marriage, and opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, just to name a few of his policy positions.
Numerous Republicans and conservatives, shortly after the November elections, asserted that their message was still winning in the court of public opinion. This notion is lunacy, an attempt to deny reality. Republicans lost seats in the Senate, lost seats in the House, and failed to deny President Obama a second term. The logic that states their message is winning is as sound as the assertion that the Hindenburg landed gracefully. With a Rubio nomination the Republican Party will offer the American public another helping of Mitt Romney, although even more conservative. Surely Romney only lost because he was not more conservative!
In the realm of pure fantasy, perhaps it is possible that the Republicans will use Rubio as a tool to gain more Hispanic support in an attempt to widen their demographic base—a widening which they absolutely have to achieve. In this admittedly ridiculously unlikely scenario, the Republicans trot out Rubio, knowing full-well that he will lose, in an attempt to wrest away Hispanics from the Democratic Party, hoping to parley this into a transformation of the Grand Old Party to win the White House in 2020. While no practical political strategist would possible play such a long game, this is the only explanation for a Rubio nomination I can fathom.
Jon Huntsman is everything the Republican Party should be looking for in a 2016 candidate. He ran in 2012, allowing him to gain organization experience (I voted for him in Ohio’s primary, knowing it was a losing effort), executive experience after serving as the governor of Utah for four years, and has extensive federal experience as well. Huntsman served as a White House staff assistant during the Reagan Administration, as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce under George H. W. Bush, was appointed to the post of U.S. Ambassador to Singapore also under Bush, was appointed Deputy United States Trade Representative under the younger Bush, and served as the United States Ambassador to China under President Obama for three years until resigning to run for the Republican nomination.
His extensive experience in East Asia, almost universally seen as the most vital region for the next decades, and his ability to work with Democrats should make Huntsman a slam dunk for the Republican nomination. Yet he will almost certainly be denied this chance by the growing tumor within the brain of the Republican Party: deeply entrenched conservatism. On the same index which measured Rubio as one of the most conservative members of the party, Huntsman ranked as the second-least conservative. His statement this past Thursday supporting same-sex marriage, declaring that, “There is nothing conservative about denying Americans the ability to forge [a loving] relationship with the person they love,” invariably will win him independent support while earning him the scorn of the conservative branch of the Republican Party—a branch which rapidly seems to be the whole tree. Further, Huntsman has affirmed his belief in evolution and climate change; hardly popular opinions in a party whose chairmen of the House Space, Science, and Technology Subcommittee on Oversight, Paul Broun, declared evolution and the Big Bang “lies straight from the pits of Hell.”
Marco Rubio is a flashy candidate. He is a handsome guy, charismatic, and very likely a good man. It is not outside the realm of possibility that he could serve Florida as a senator for the next two decades. But unless something drastic happens over the next four years, he will not be able to win in 2016. Jon Huntsman, on the other, is a solid Republican who is not enthralled by the specter haunting the Republican Party. It is not a coincidence that Huntsman, the least conservative Republican seeking the nomination in 2012, was regarded by President Obama’s campaign as the most serious threat.