Less than two weeks after the 2012 presidential election, the journey to 2016 has begun. Almost before Mitt Romney’s political corpse has gone cold, a clutch of Republican presidential hopefuls are jockeying to position themselves as his replacement. Which is why Marco Rubio, the GOP’s hottest rising star, is spending a November Saturday night in Iowa, gripping and grinning at a birthday fundraiser for Iowa’s Republican Governor Terry Branstad. Never mind the damage Iowa wreaked on Republican candidates in 2012. It’s never too soon to lavish caucusgoers with attention.
Rubio’s trip to Altoona is the conventional part of his early 2016 strategy. (Officially, of course, the Florida Senator is not running for anything yet.) The more interesting element is his decision to grant a lengthy interview with GQ magazine. The transcript is worth a read. It’s got some softball questions and airy answers about the challenges facing the party, but there are also some strategic notes and surprising nuggets. (Among them: Rubio says his best friend in the world, save his wife, is Tea Party icon Jim DeMint.) With apologies to an entertaining disquisition on Pitbull, Tupac and the coastal rap wars of the 1990s, the most interesting section of the interview is this:
GQ: How old do you think the earth is?
Rubio: I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians, and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created, and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the earth was created in seven days, or seven actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.
Punting the question may be the safe route; Jon Huntsman, if you’ll recall, irked GOP voters last fall by sneering at the party’s climate-change-denying wing. As Republicans conduct their 2012 postmortems and realign themselves, it will be interesting to see whether its pragmatic faction can regain control over the party. Rubio, notably, doesn’t pick a side. His scientific agnosticism will horrify liberals — not to mention scientists — yet it may also be shrewd politics. But there is also a chance that he is tethering himself to a know-nothing strain of conservative politics that is bound to be expurgated as Republicans reckon with what went wrong this year.