Why Marco Rubio will be 2016 GOP presidential nominee

FILE -- Florida Senator Marco Rubio

FILE -- Florida Senator Marco Rubio  (The Associated Press)

It’s way too early to predict the winner of the GOP presidential nomination. But opinion writers are paid to be live dangerously and so I am willing to hazard a hunch.

I think the candidate will be Mario Rubio.

For one thing, he’s going to have enough money.  In his past races Rubio has received contributions from, among others, the Koch Brothers, the Club for Growth and Goldman Sachs. Miami billionaire Norman Braman is prepared to help bankroll Rubio in 2016.

Last week Larry Ellison, the Oracle founder and, according to Forbes Magazine the third richest person in America, announced that he is going to host a Rubio fundraiser at one of Ellison’s mansions in California.    

And then there is Sheldon Adelson. The Las Vegas casino magnate is only slightly less rich than Ellison and more politically generous. Last primary season he reportedly gave Newt Gingrich at least $20 million dollars. Adelson has been entertaining suitors in Vegas for weeks and people who know him believe that Rubio has conducted a very successful courtship. Support for Israel is Adelson’s biggest issue. Lately Rubio has been declaring that he is opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state under current conditions.  That, it so happens, is exactly what Sheldon Adelson is opposed to.

Democrats tend to see the Hispanic vote as rightfully theirs, but that proposition has never been tested by a Hispanic presidential candidate. A lot of Republican primary voters interested in broadening the party’s base, would like to see Rubio try.

Campaign contributions aren’t everything (if they were, Gingrich would have done better in 2012).  Brains and talent matter and Rubio is smarter and more sophisticated than he has been given credit for. He demonstrated that at a recent gathering of the Council on Foreign Affairs, impressing a skeptical audience of mavens with a surprising (and to many, confounding) mastery of complex foreign policy and intelligence issues. Such expertise will be important in the general election, which is bound to have a large security component. Primary voters can rest assured that Rubio is more than able to make the case against the Obama/Clinton record of foreign policy misjudgments and disasters.

A lot of GOP political pros are excited by something else—Marco Rubio’s exceptional set of electoral assets.  He’s young (43, the same age as JFK), good-looking (ditto) and he has an up-from-the-bottom immigrant story no one else can match.  Rubio is not filthy rich (unlike the ravenously greedy Clintons) and he comes from Florida, a must-win state.  Jeb Bush is a Floridian too, but he is neither young nor dashing and his biography does not include a mom who worked at Walmart.

Best of all, Marco Rubio is a Hispanic candidate. And not just any old Hispanic, one who can actually speak Spanish (unlike Ted Cruz or the Democrats’ highly touted vice-presidential aspirant Julian Castro).  This is not simply a matter of ethnic authenticity; The Spanish-language TV audience in the U.S. rivals the big-three broadcast networks.  Democrats tend to see the Hispanic vote as rightfully theirs, but that proposition has never been tested by a Hispanic presidential candidate.  A lot of Republican primary voters interested in broadening the party’s base, would like to see Rubio try.

The flip side is the issue of illegal immigration.  Some GOP hardliners have seen the Florida senator as soft on the matter, as well as excessively moderate on other issues of social policy.  There are usually not enough hardliners to determine the nominee—as John McCain and Mitt Romney demonstrated—but the party can’t win a general election if right-wing Republicans don’t turn out in large numbers.  That has been the knock on Rubio, but it appears to be changing.

Last week, Rush Limbaugh, the Chief Rabbi of Red State America spent ten minutes on his show praising Rubio.  He described how the Senator had “run rings” around the sophisticates at the Council on Foreign Affairs (and even corrected Charlie Rose).  He discussed the significance of Larry Ellison’s support and reckoned that it signaled a potentially “massive move” toward the candidate.  Rubio, he said without disapproval, had put “distance” between himself and the rest of the field.

Limbaugh does not formally endorse primary candidates, he makes his preferences clear to his listeners.   So far he has been a strong supporter of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, whose plucky stand against the unions reminds El Rushbo of his idol, Ronald Reagan; and of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, whose uncompromising conservatism appeals to Limbaugh’s take-no-prisoners temperament. Marco Rubio has now been added to that list of favorite sons.

None of this means that Marco Rubio is the front-runner. It does mean that he appears to be putting the necessary pieces together. November 2016 is still a long way off. If I am wrong about Rubio, you will have forgotten by then. If I am right, I’ll remind you.

Zev Chafets is a Fox News contributor. His latest book is "Remembering Who We Are: A Treasury of Conservative Commencement Addresses" (Sentinel 2015).