The big winner: Marco Rubio
Coming into tonight, the Tea Party’s big success has been knocking off a wide range of Republican incumbents or elected officials aiming for the Senate or the Governor’s mansion. This was nearly all to the benefit of candidates with minimal to no political experience. Even the Tea Partiers who held office, like Sharon Angle, were marginal figures in the legislatures in which they served. Whether a Mike Lee, Rand Paul or Joe Miller can actually translate their ideas into action in the Senate—whether they can be anything but marginal players—is an open question that will be resolved over the next six years.
But among the Tea Party-powered candidates, there is one exception, and he is the real big winner of the night: Marco Rubio. A former Speaker of the Florida House, Rubio was not carried by the Tea Party wave, he rode it. He challenged a popular sitting Governor in the primary and did not blink when faced with calls to pull out for the good of the party. Instead, he marshaled his forces, saw which way the political wind was blowing and destroyed Charlie Crist, not once, but twice.
It is not his ideas or his personal story or his hoped-for ability to appeal to Latino voters that makes Rubio garner the respect of the party elite, and have some dreaming that he is the Republican’s answer to Obama. It is instead political savvy that enabled him to tap into the Tea Party movement from the beginning. Unlike many of the other Tea Party officials, he had something to lose by running. Whether this, plus his previous high-level political experience, translates into a successful legislative career is unknown. But it is a good start.
Of course all of this leads to another question. One of Rubio’s biggest backers was Jeb Bush. Bush has denied any interest in 2012, which generally means nothing. In a weak and unsettled field, Bush may be the one person who could immediately grab the lead just by announcing. What would Rubio’s support mean in terms of corralling the Tea Party faithful if Bush runs?
Joshua Spivak is a PR exeJoshua Spivak is a PR executive and senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College.