Marco Rubio’s Republican Debate Performance Proved He’s Best For 2016 — But Will Conservatives Realize It?

Marco Rubio has struggled to build momentum over the course of the Republican presidential primaries, but the Florida senator’s performance in last night’s debates could be his first grab at the frontrunner’s table.

That’s good news for Marco, who is still trailing Donald Trump and Ben Carson by more than 10 points according to an average of recent polls compiled by Real Clear Politics. The real question is, with just a fraction of the vote, will Rubio be able to use his debate performance to his advantage?

debates Marco Rubio 2016 Republicans
Marco Rubio still trails the two leading candidates by a sharp margin, but a positive debate performance could be the extra boost he needs. (Source: Real Clear Politics)

Republicans looking to take back the White House in 2016 should already be considering Rubio much more closely. With Donald converted into an international caricature of right-wing U.S. politics and Ben’s brand of Holocaust-invoking extremism not far behind him, conservatives need to start thinking about the real decision makers: independents. While Carson may be able to pull a few from this crowd, Trump will never be able to woo the middle ground voter. The same could be said for most of the other members of the Republican field — except Marco.

Still, many conservative Americans aren’t seeing Rubio as their best option. Marco has been the victim of attacks from within his own party for several instances where he stepped too far to the left on an issue. One of the most commonly attacked is his comparatively progressive stance on immigration. Rubio recently called out the inviability of Donald’s plan to throw all undocumented immigrants out of the country and build a wall along the border to keep them out — financed by Mexico no less. Conservative news source Breitbart published an extremely negative article in response where they lambasted Marco for his 2.1 high school GPA.

2016 Marco Rubio debates Republican
Marco Rubio might be shadowed by Donald Trump and Ben Carson in the polls, but strong showings in debates could lead him to the nomination in 2016. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Still, the press could end up giving Rubio the push he still needs to break out from the pack. Following the debate, several outlets — both left and right leaning — declared him the winner. Fox’s Megyn Kelly File even devoted a short segment to pointing out all of the right moves Marco made on stage Wednesday night.

Despite its lack of relevance to policy, Rubio’s skirmish with Jeb Bush established itself as one of the most talked about moments of the evening. Marco batted away a critique of his voting record levied by Jeb by insisting that he was doing nothing different than the typical presidential candidate by declining to resign from his senator position while campaigning. With Bush and Rubio hanging within points of each other in the polls, there’s clear symbolism in the moment — particularly considering that Jeb was one of the first serious candidates to emerge in the race. Marco, even from his distant third place, just might be a contender.

More than a month ago, Red State published an editorial arguing Rubio would end up facing off against Ted Cruz for the nomination. By many accounts, Ted was the other big winner of the evening. Both Latinos, either could stand a chance of luring in Hispanic voters. In the 2014 Congressional elections, around 62 percent Latinos voted for Democrats — up 2 percent from the election four years prior. Given those numbers, capturing those constituents could be vital.

Yet as that same column points out, Cruz would be much more effective at rallying the most conservative elements of the Republican party. Alternatively, Marco Rubio would appeal to the kind of voter who will matter in the long run — those who never considered a candidate as extreme as Ted or Trump in the first place.

[Image via Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]

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