The Wilderness | Issue 47 | 4 . 13. 15 | Tweet
The best thing that happened to Marco Rubio was being passed up in 2012 as Mitt Romney’s running mate. His American story would have been eclipsed and pushed into the background of a campaign that never could overcome the image of a cardboard millionaire burning dollar bills for fun and killing people with Bain cancer.
And Marco Rubio most definitely has a story to tell.
It’s a story that doesn’t require checking off the Cherokee Indian nationality box on Harvard application for him to tell it. His upbringing by blue collar immigrant parents is the story Barack Obama wishes he could sell during his immigration march. Rubio’s father worked and raised him on a bartender’s tips and his mother, a hotel maid, two people today that Hillary Clinton would describe as simple servants. Marco Rubio’s rise is an American story, and a country searching for a new star as opposed to an old face, is primed to listen if he tells it right. He comes off like the Matt Damon character in The Adjustment Bureau. Always on an upward trajectory, becoming successful by the sheer force of his magnetic personality and the sense that higher powers are guiding his way. But there’s also trepidation that comes along with him.
He always feels like a guy you could embarrass with a dirty joke. We tried that in 2012 with a candidate who was happy to not only pull his punches, but also pick his enemy up and then wonder why he was sucker punched over and over again. There are undeniable similarities between Rubio and Mitt Romney that go beyond Rubio hiring Romney’s room of advisers. Rubio can’t sit back and talk of the sweeping promise of America alone as the Buzzfeeds and late night shows try to embrace Hillary Clinton. He has to be more and the people he has surrounded himself with better have learned from their 2012 mistakes. Rubio, along with Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are generational Republicans. They have a real, genuine opportunity to convert a waning Democrat electorate for a decade or more, but they have to start engaging younger voters, not talk at them. This is where Marco Rubio can make his run and why he’s uniquely suited for the times.
He is the first Generation X candidate to run for President.
When he visited Google to talk the future of innovation last year, he didn’t look out-of-place or like another Washington stuffed suit. He understands the developments of the technology industry and the limitless possibilities of growth, if innovation is left alone to create and design. He’s not peering over his reading glasses at the guys from Google. He grew up with them.
This also translates over to culture for him and at this point in the race, it’s the only thing that matters. He’s a mega fan of Tupac Shakur, Public Enemy and N.W.A and in preparing for the fight ahead, he would be much wiser heeding their advice over the swath of former Romney 2012 advisors he’s targeting. Rubio stated in a GQ interview in 2012 that among his favorite songs Straight Outta Compton was his favorite, and “More punks I smoke, yo, my rep gets bigger“ is exactly how he should position himself because that’s what it’s going to take to defeat Hillary Clinton. Last month while Clinton was immersed in an email scandal that could see her testify before congress in the midst of her candidacy, there was only one outlet brave enough to ask her questions as she strolled through Reagan National Airport – TMZ. Hillary conveniently ignored the reporter’s questions.
When TMZ caught up with Marco Rubio and asked him to compare Rapper Lil Wayne to Tupac, not only did he not ignore, he articulated the difference between the two:
Rubio is a Republican who can talk to a TMZ paparazzi reporter about hip hop while walking with a smile on his face. Yes Team Grandma, you are terrified and you should be.
Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and the DNC are certainly welcome to make the case that these comparisons are trivial, but this is the tone they’ve set for the past six years. Marco Rubio’s humored responses on hip hop culture matter because the pop culture presidency of Barack Obama has made them matter. If there is one candidate in the field that can illuminate the stark contrast of the generational divide that exists between a 69 year old Hillary Clinton and a country growing more obsessed with youth culture and the growing problems facing it, it’s Rubio. That’s the part of his personality he needs to add to his sweeping pontification on the promise of America. He has to approach voters with more than just a memory of a dead President, gone long before some of them were born.
Less Reagan’s ghost. More Ghostface Killah.
Rubio’s message has to be about more than attaining the American Dream through hard work and getting a job. He can sell a vision of optimistic idealism through hard work but he can’t do it sounding like the buzz killing Republican dad turning off the video game and yelling at a tuned out electorate to go get a job. This was the problem Mitt Romney couldn’t overcome. Rubio can orate better than any candidate entering the 2016 field. But rhetoric on the promise of American renewal isn’t going to be enough. The promise simply feels faded for far too many people after eight years of Barack Obama’s magical mystery tour. He has to give people (and more importantly young people) incentive and he can but he has to do it on their terms. To connect, Rubio has to motivate a disenfranchised American public where 92 million don’t have a job and many of which are content to keep it that way because their entitlements pay better. He has to make people want to get a job, pursue a career, and follow a dream. It’s not an easy task but it is possible. A great example of selling that kind of message the right way came from Kevin Kline’s jobs speech from the movie Dave:
Rubio has that kind of ability, to captivate a room, but he’s going to have to get dirty and admit hard truths to people and he has to be willing to do it in venues most suited for him. That means sitting down for interviews, side by side with his stunning wife, Jeanette (a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader), on Univision and Telemundo instead of Good Morning America and Meet the Press. It means engaging on Facebook and Reddit (as all 2016 candidates should be doing) in both English and Spanish. It means speaking on college campuses and more importantly, community college campuses. It means becoming the guy in Pennsylvania and Ohio that blue collar men and women can talk football with. Rubio can harness his love of Eminem as a weapon to reach into the dilapidated warehouses and homes of Detroit. He can connect with African American communities, not by talking to them about federal debt, but Public Enemy and Kanye West. These are the strengths other candidates simply don’t have. Jeb Bush has thus far been articulate and safe but won’t swing a cultural needle much either way. Scott Walker runs the risk of being written off as typical Republican white bread. Ted Cruz is making his play for the Santorumcons and Rand Paul is attempting to grow a depleted base of youth voters from the depths of internet out. There is room in the street for Rubio if he wants it.
His other strength is none of the potential GOP candidates have had the practice run against someone like Clinton. Marco Rubio has, having dispensed limousine loving, ventriloquist dummy Charlie Crist to the political ash heap. Crist and Clinton are cut from the exact same elitist cloth, believing themselves entitled and destined, the voters be damned. Both of them have gotten creamed in elections staking out that position by someone an electorate found more charismatic and in tune with everyday values.
The country is currently in the middle of the American Idol phase of 2016. As each candidate enters, the press will give them their hazing in the hopes of protecting a 70 year old retread that most of the country has already made their mind up about, even if her former campaign manager hasn’t. There is plenty of time for Rubio to explain his immigration failures and demonstrate his Foreign policy credentials in an election that is almost certainly going to be centered on a world crumbling at the feet of Barack Obama. But Rubio now, just like the other candidates entering the race, should be focused on getting his story told because today in America, there are more people growing up as Marco Rubio did, rather than Chelsea Clinton.
There is no doubt who has dominated and shaped American pop culture for the past decade. But as Obama exits, so does the ability to keep the culture calcified around him. Now “the party of cool” is stuck with a senior citizen bobbing her head along to verses of Fleetwood Mac and Carole King, all while a young fresh faced Republican senator from Florida is quoting Jay Z and Wiz Khalifa from memory from the floor of the Senate:
“That takes me back to another modern-day poet by the name of Jay-Z and one of the songs he wrote: ‘It’s funny when seven days can change, it was all good just a week ago, well I don’t know if it was all good a week ago, but I can tell you that things have really changed, because if the president was George W. Bush and this was a question being asked of him and his response was the silence we’ve gotten, we’d have a very different scenario here tonight.”
If Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton want to position themselves as the Netflix Elite, partying and laughing along with Frank Underwood, let them do it. Rubio is the rare politician who can play the role of America’s once and future son, connecting on a blue collar level without resorting to class warfare and taking a message of visceral hope to a cynical generation of voters that have truly never been spoken to before. The alternate choice is a press pass into John Podesta’s luxury living room. No candidate entering the 2016 GOP field has a higher ceiling, but ultimately Marco Rubio has to be willing to take the gloves off if he wants to reach it.
In the immortal words of Public Enemy, Marco Rubio must bring the noise.
– SM –