This article is the response to a challenge from my friend Dave: as a centrist, argue for Marco Rubio as a presidential candidate. The resulting argument does not represent my actual beliefs on Marco Rubio’s candidacy. It is an intellectual exercise (or unintellectual exercise, depending on your politics?). I neither endorse nor denounce Marco Rubio’s candidacy. If challenged to argue against Marco Rubio, I would have done the same, but that was not the challenge this time.

Challenge: Argue for Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio, the junior Senator from Florida, is both the youngest candidate for president still running into February 2015 and only one of two remaining candidates with Hispanic bona fides. As a conservative, Rubios’ ethnicity is a strength in the general election as he may appeal to voters in the coveted Hispanic demographic. Policy-wise, his ethnicity also lends itself to a centrist views on immigration reform, in comparison to his conservative counterparts. The comparison is important one, but taken together, Rubio’s current stated positions on the issues are definitively conservative. Given his heritage, his past work on immigration reform, and his firm conservative views, Rubio represents a strong candidate in the general election.

The Republican party has a Hispanic problem, and Marco Rubio can help correct that issue. Since 1980, Hispanics have voted convincingly for Democratic presidential candidates. Only George W. Bush, during his second campaign, managed to close the Hispanic vote gap to within less than 20%.1 Capturing more of the Hispanic vote would significantly improve any Republican candidate’s chances for election, and Rubio offers a chance to capture that vote. In addition, Rubio has already demonstrated that he can win a federal-level election in Florida, which is the 4th largest state in terms of electoral votes.2

Immigration is a large issue in present American politics, and Marco Rubio has demonstrated both his willingness to address the issue and his intents while in the Senate. Though other candidates may profess to have a plan they would like to see, Rubio has attempted to construct and pass a bill that would actually address reform. The bill did ultimately fail, but its provisions were decidedly bipartisan, drawn up by 4 Republicans and 4 Democrats. In fact, the bill included a path to citizenship, which, while derided by hardline conservatives, has appeal to independents, and especially Hispanic voters.3 Additionally, while a state legislator in Florida, Rubio actively blocked anti-immigration bills and, “supported tuition assistance for the children of undocumented immigrants.”4

While Marco Rubio did ride the Tea Party wave to his Senate seat, his positions on the many issues have proven softer and perhaps more generally appealing than firebrand Tea Party conservatives might prefer. When asked about the divide between African Americans and the police, Rubio acknowledged that racial profiling within law enforcement is a real and significant issue, though he offered no legislative answer.5 On the subject of same-sex marriage, Rubio has opposed the institutional change to allow them, but also stated that, “all Americans are worthy of the protections of our laws…irrespective of what relationship they formed.”6 In some sense, Rubio’s career shows him to be pragmatic about the environment he finds himself in, which may at times lead to a perception of so-called “flip-flopping”, but may also serve to frame some of his rhetoric during the primaries more appropriately.

In the end, Marco Rubio has several strengths as a candidate for president. Thanks to his ethnicity, and his policies on immigration, he has a considerable opportunity to make the Republican party resemble its big-tent mantra. On the issues Rubio has shown himself willing to compromise, and to address topics according to the environment in which he finds himself. An appeal for pragmatism may be a potent method for wooing independents in the general election and securing victory.