By John David Dyche
The Republican presidential race is getting real now. The Iowa caucuses are on February 1.
For many in the GOP the most important thing is nominating someone who can beat the almost certain Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. A new Fox News poll says Florida Senator Marco Rubio is the best Republican bet.
Rubio bested Clinton by eight points, 50 percent to 42 percent. Other Republicans also outpolled Clinton, but not by as much, and Rubio was the only one to hit the important 50 percent mark.
The 44-year-old Floridian also topped the GOP field for being honest and trustworthy. His 51 percent tally on that important measure poses a threat to Clinton on one of her greatest vulnerabilities.
In an embarrassing indictment of the Republican nominating electorate, Donald Trump still leads the field overall. It seems that the more ignorant and outrageous his remarks, the better he does.
It is almost as disturbing that Ben Carson is still in second place. His recent and wrong comments about Thomas Jefferson crafting the Constitution, despite having been serving in France at the time of the convention, are just the latest cringe-inducing display by a man who is clearly out of his depth.
Rational Republicans and political pundits have long predicted that Trump and Carson will fade. At this relatively late date, however, there is reason to fear that they will be around for the long haul.
Rubio remains future-oriented, is optimistic about America, and refrains from attacking his GOP rivals. Wary of his rise, they are attacking him.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz is also on an upswing. He criticizes Rubio for having backed “amnesty” for illegal immigrants already in America.
But as Rubio quickly pointed out, backed by video from congressional proceedings, Cruz also supported legal status for illegal immigrants in the U.S. Now Cruz dodges questions about how he would deal with these people.
Rubio also distinguishes himself from Cruz, and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, on national security issues that are back in the forefront post-Paris. Both of them backed weakening the federal government’s powers to track terrorist communications.
The reemergence of national security and terrorism issues as top priorities plays into Rubio’s strength. He is knowledgeable, fluent, and strong in this area.
As even respected national Democrats indict President Obama’s leadership on Syria and the Islamic State, Rubio has put forward a detailed strategy for victory. His oft-repeated line, “Either they win, or we do,” powerfully crystallizes the choice confronting the country.
The libertarian, non-interventionist Paul, of all people, purports to question Rubio’s conservatism. Paul’s presidential campaign is impotent so he calls out Rubio for advocating more military spending and pro-family tax credits.
Rubio, a first-rate debater and articulate communicator, ably defends these positions and calls Paul a “committed isolationist” in the process. So deft are Rubio’s responses that Paul is doing him a favor every time he raises these issues.
Jeb Bush is obviously a good and decent man, but he does not project strong leadership. The dynastic and backward-looking issues associated with Bush are also a handicap when the GOP will need to attack Clinton on the very same grounds.
Ohio governor John Kasich and New Jersey governor Chris Christie are staking everything on the New Hampshire primary on February 9. Christie is a clear and forceful communicator, whereas Kasich is not, but it is hard to see either man breaking out of the pack.
Former business executive Carly Fiorina always does well in the debates, but after her initial upsurge she has not been able to translate later performances into better poll results. She may be right that people would like to see her debate Clinton, but the prospect of such a confrontation is not enough to actually make it happen.
Critics of Rubio compare him to Obama. They say we have already tried a relatively young U.S. Senator without executive experience and it has not gone well for America.
Rubio responds that it is Obama’s policies that are the problem, not his biography. Republicans should rejoice if Rubio could be as successful implementing his conservative agenda as Obama has in implementing his radically liberal one.
In the interests of full disclosure, this columnist has made some meager financial contributions to Rubio’s campaign. He has sent even smaller sums to Fiorina and Kasich.
The price of this participation is an unending stream of e-mails seeking more money. But the stakes are so high, and the cost of a wrong Republican choice so dear, that it seems irresponsible not to put one’s money where one’s mind, and mouth, are.
Rubio is rising, alright. But there is still a long way to go and a lot of room for further improvement. Decision time draws nigh.
(John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche)