Rubio Mania Meets Reality

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Updated, 6:10 p.m. 

ABC News’ report that Marco Rubio is not among the candidates Mitt Romney is vetting for vice president is a surprise in one respect: Rubio’s cadre of boosters has been vocal for so long about his suitability for the ticket that Romney’s decision not to shortlist the Florida Senator could be construed as a snub.

Since his ascent, a faction of the GOP has been gripped by Rubio mania. Here was a young, telegenic conservative who could ostensibly help mend the party’s frayed relationship with Hispanic voters and deliver the pivotal swing state of Florida. The argument was catnip for the grassroots, as evidenced by Rubio’s repeated straw poll victories, as well as the 41-year-old Senator’s influential champions like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. The notion that Rubio’s vitals earmarked him for national office was treated as gospel by the people who wanted it to be true. “Either … we’re being punked so there’s a surprise element,” wrote Florida Republican strategist Ana Navarro, or “somebody doesn’t like him.”

But the notion that Rubio was a top-tier contender for the ticket has never quite matched the reality. As I wrote in April, there are a host of reasons that made Rubio an unlikely pick. Inside the GOP, the consensus has long been that Romney would tap a safe, experienced running mate — likely a Midwesterner — who would sail through vetting, amplify his economic argument and offer no distractions. The high-wattage Rubio could have faced vetting trouble over his finances, has a short record in Washington and would undercut Romney’s claim that the country made a mistake by trusting Barack Obama in 2008, when he was a relatively inexperienced politician with a stirring personal story.

Just as importantly, there was no guarantee Rubio’s demographic advantages would pay dividends. Hispanics are not a monolithic bloc; there are divisions between Cubans like Rubio and other Hispanic groups in Florida. And history has shown that vice presidential candidates don’t often make a big difference in their home states.

Which is why the betting odds on Rubio’s selection were always out of whack. Whether or not it’s true, Jon Karl’s report should bring them more in line with the reality.

Updated, 6:10 p.m.: According to numerous reporters, during a bus-tour stop in Holland, Mich., this afternoon Romney told his press pool that Rubio was being “thoroughly vetted.” Though I still don’t see Rubio as a serious contender, it’s smart to extend an olive branch that might mitigate the hurt feelings in Rubio’s fan club. Won’t hurt the guy as he hawks his just-released memoir, either.