Ryan and Rubio: Superheroes or Mere Mortals?

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You have to have a superpower if you're a superhero.

Most superheroes gain their superpowers through some unfortunate lab accident, cosmic rays or even because they hail from another planet.

Superman can fly and possesses unparalleled strength. The Green Lantern has his ring. The Flash is startlingly fast. Aquaman communicates telepathically with aquatic life and swims underwater like a dolphin.

Superheroes are popular with kids because of their special talents.

And certain politicians are very popular with voters. Especially presidential candidates.

To voters, some politicians are faster than fighter jets. Some can fly. Others have X-ray vision or even possess a magic lasso that can force people to tell the truth.

Which is precisely why there's been so much buzz in the past two weeks about Republicans trying to cajole House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) to seek the White House. After Ryan stood down, the speculation turned to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and the GOP's interest in recruiting him to run for vice president.

Most Republicans believe Ryan and Rubio are bulletproof. They're faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Do Republicans think the same about Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R)? Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R)? Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN)? Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX)? How about the rest of the GOP presidential field?

Certainly there are many Republicans who appreciate the superpowers of these candidates. But political Kryptonite exposed their respective vulnerabilities. This is why GOPers are rifling through the comic book aisle, looking for the exact superhero who has the right superpowers to defeat President Obama in 2012.

The GOP's repeated attempts to court Ryan and cast Rubio as vice presidential timber bears watching. But what's more important is why some Republicans are still searching and why they continue to view the likes of Ryan and Rubio as saviors.

First, an historical look at how voters feel about their presidential choices more than a year ahead of the general election.

The dissatisfaction among Republicans about their presidential options at this point in the cycle is not that different compared to what's historically reported by members of the party out of power.

An Associated Press-GfK poll indicates that 64 percent of Republicans and those who link themselves with the Republican party like their choice of candidates. Just 30 percent expressed disappointment.

Consider where Republicans were as they prepared to try to defeat President Clinton in the mid-1990s. Republicans nominated former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS) in 1996. But in the fall of 1995, with Republicans riding the crest of an historic midterm election the year before, barely half of all respondents to a Pew study were pleased with the field. And in 2003, when Democrats amped up their game to take on President George W. Bush, only 44 percent were okay with the cast of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D), former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO), Gen. Wesley Clark and eventual nominee Sen. John Kerry (D-MA).

In the fall of 1991, barely a quarter of all Democrats liked the field their party assembled to challenge President George. H.W. Bush.

However, in late 2007, Democrats were very positive about their slate of presidential contenders. Of course, President Obama and now Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton were duking it out for the nomination, to say nothing of folks like Vice President Biden, then-Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Edwards. Interestingly, Democrats matched the favorable ratings that the AP-GfK study found among Republican voters right now.

So why the push to conscript Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio?

For starters, few outside the Beltway know much about either one. That's especially true in the case of Rubio, who's only been a senator since January. In fact, there was a point in last year's Senate race where many considered Rubio to be a long-shot.

Ryan formally put the kibosh on any potential presidential bid just a few days ago, declaring "I have not changed my mind."

But Ryan had to make that announcement because as we've learned now, he actively considered running, despite making this comment earlier in the year: "There is a zero percent chance I will be seeking the Republicans' nomination for president in 2012," Ryan said.

That remark came when Ryan was at the zenith of his power. Voters had just ushered in a new House GOP majority. As the newly-minted Budget Committee Chairman, Republicans would look to Ryan to design a blueprint to slash spending, the touchstone of the GOP's 2010 midterm campaign. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) tapped Ryan to deliver the official Republican response to President Obama's state of the Union address (remember, Michele Bachmann offered her own response). Time magazine proclaimed Ryan to be one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World."

When on the air, Ryan exudes a telegenic energy that draws people to him. He's well-spoken, handsome and youthful. But a lot of people on TV are. After all, that's why they're on TV. Such was the case with President Obama in 2008. And it's the legacy of Ronald Reagan and JFK.

Ryan's mug on TV invites people to cast certain perceptions onto him. But at the end of the day, Ryan is a numbers guy. Green eyeshades and all the rest.

That certainly doesn't preclude the Wisconsin Republican from seeking higher office, particularly when fiscal issues are front and center. But Ryan's smarts and TV aesthetic make him appear like he was sent from central casting. This is why a lot of political engineers inside the Beltway are always trying to draft Ryan to run for the Senate, which he declined to do earlier this year. Or even House Minority Leader, which Ryan also refused to do in the fall of 2008.

Still, they celebrate Ryan. And much like a comic book superhero, they perceive the Wisconsin Republican as owning superpowers. He'll fight for truth and justice and the American way and swoop in to save the country..... by defeating President Obama.

Of course in 2007 and 2008, many believed Mr. Obama possessed political superpowers too.

But now the luster is off the president's cape as his approval ratings careened into Jimmy Carter territory.

Republicans also lump Marco Rubio into the same camp as Ryan. After a speech earlier this week at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA, many GOP loyalists are wondering why he isn't running now. Some are hoping the Republican nominee will draft Rubio for the number two spot on the ticket. Others are pining for the Florida Republican to run in 2016.

Never mind all of the criticism Republicans heaped on Mr. Obama in 2008 because he had only been in the Senate for four years.

Marco Rubio's only been there eight months.

But as a young, sharp, Cuban-American, Rubio makes eyes light up. Just like what happens with Paul Ryan. And again, people cast things onto Rubio that they want to see. They have no proof of his superpowers. But they WANT him to have them to defeat the sitting president.This is the precise appeal of superheroes. They are the things of fantasy. People sometimes ask Facebook friends what superpower they would want? X-ray vision? The ability to time travel? You name it.

We all expect our politicians to sport superpowers just like superheroes. But there is no Superman or Green Lantern or Spider-Man. There's no Incredible Hulk or Plastic Man or Fantastic 4.

Politicians are mere mortals, too. And when the country is in crisis, we seek a superhuman who exudes superhuman qualities.

Which is why voters grow frustrated with Mr. Obama and are searching for someone fresh like Paul Ryan or Marco Rubio.

Not all politicians are cut out for this sort of duty. And while no politician truly believes he or she has superpowers, some do hear a "super calling" by the electorate.

Perhaps Peter Parker, Spider-Man's alter ego, summed this up best.

"Not everyone is meant to make a difference. But for me, the choice to lead an ordinary life is no longer an option," Parker said.

And then the only question is whether we expect too much of a difference from them once we elect them.

They don't have superpowers. They don't come from another galaxy or were altered by cosmic rays. There's no special ring that they wear.

They're just mortals.

Like the rest of us.