Sen. Marco Rubio might be a Spanish-speaking Cuban from Miami, but he is currently winning the Republican Party’s “American” presidential primary as the only guy speaking common English right now.
It is still early in a wide-open contest for the nomination, and there are plenty of other important hurdles each candidate must clear. But, as Republicans have learned in the last few disappointing presidential elections, nothing is more important than having a candidate who can speak like a normal American.
In 2008, we learned that Sen. John McCain’s crazy Geritol/Beach Boys talk about “bomb, bomb, bomb — bomb, bomb Iran” and suspending his fizzling presidential campaign to somehow stop the economic meltdown was no match for all the gilded hype about “hope” and “change.” We now know that then-Sen. Barack Obama was totally full of untreated sewage, but at least he served it to us in ordinary English.
Four years later, Mitt Romney of the loftier regions of the upper 52 percent, taught us that speaking rich guy and talking about how he loves firing people isn’t a terribly good strategy for reaching the presidency. The high point of Mr. Romney’s campaign was the first debate, where President Obama talked like exasperated royalty and Mr. Romney stunned the world with his command of plain English.
The ensuing November beat down of the GOP — despite the shambles Mr. Obama and Democrats were making of the place — was so stinging that even the famously obtuse party bosses got the message. After a period of intense introspection, they concluded: “The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself.”
Former Gov. Jeb Bush speaks pure blue-blood Brahmin. And no matter how much salsa cred he claims by constantly pimping out his little wife, he remains a very pale patrician.
Sen. Ted Cruz beautifully encapsulates the rage most voters feel toward Washington. But unfortunately he speaks right-wing Kool-Aid that, literally, frightens little children in the audience. That is not good. Politicians are supposed to kiss little babies, not scare them.
Sen. Rand Paul seems to have perfectly captured the don’t-tread-on-me sentiments of many conservatives, particularly the young. Problem is that he also seems to be speaking kook. His father got away with it because he was an appealing old man. But with Rand, it is like he is tuned to a frequency that can only be picked up if you are wearing a tinfoil hat.
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee comes very, very close to speaking plain American and can be genuinely hysterical, especially when he is mocking other candidates. But he can’t help himself veering wildly into preacher mode, which is deadly for a politician.
Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal are both — God bless them! — governors and not politicians long steeped in the putrid excreta of Washington, D.C. But when they open their mouths, they both speak geek.
All their policy positions, spending cuts and taking on the beastly public unions are beyond commendable. But to be a viable presidential contender, you have to speak ordinary American English.
Mr. Rubio has had his stumbles, and his present position in the U.S. Senate should certainly be held against him. But when he speaks — in Spanish or English — he speaks American. He tells a story. He talks about legal immigration that unites people. He talks vividly about the American dream. And he does it with humility and optimism and without scaring little children.
The good news for Republicans is that Democrats appear — once again — to be ready to canonize Hillary Rodham Clinton as their nominee. She hasn’t spoken a word of English in the quarter-century since she left Arkansas.
Charles Hurt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter at @charleshurt.