Marco Rubio is the Obama-like candidate that the Republican Party has desperately needed. He’s a young, eloquent member of an ethnic minority. He has a knack for motivating his party’s core constituents. Most of the similarities between Rubio and Obama, however, are superficial. When it comes to policy, they couldn’t be more different.
Although Rubio drastically differs from the president, it’s impossible to avoid the surface-level similarities between the two. Like Obama, Rubio is entering the presidential race as a U.S. Senator with relative inexperience (he assumed office in 2011). He’s the son of Cuban immigrants, with a background that could help galvanize the nation’s right-wing Hispanic population.
In his speech announcing his candidacy, Rubio used a rhetoric strikingly similar to that used by Obama in the lead-up to the 2008 elections. He spoke about his impoverished parents, who worked as a bartender and a hotel maid and came to the United States seeking a better life for his family. He framed his family history as an example of the American dream, noting that “Americans are starting to doubt whether achieving that dream is still possible.” His speech seemed targeted towards young voters, claiming he would be able to lead the country into a new American Century.
Rubio’s announcement also hit all the points that will appeal to the more traditional Republican base. He slid in phrases like “all life deserves protection” amidst references to God, and he vowed to “no longer be passive in the face of Chinese and Russian aggression.” He also managed to say that he wanted to “repeal and replace Obamacare,” without going into the details as to what that would actually entail. His speech took direct aim at Obama's policies, similar to the way Obama presented himself as the anti-Bush in 2008.
Given his conservative values, Rubio is far from truly being anything like Obama. Policy and background aside, however, Rubio has the exact same goal as Obama did in 2008: beating Hillary Clinton. Rubio already took a jab at Clinton in his announcement speech, referring to her as a “leader from yesterday.” That’s not unlike the tactics Obama used to defeat both Clinton and McCain in 2008, presenting himself as the one candidate that would enact true change in the country.
Also like Obama, Rubio has ascended to the spotlight of his party at the most opportune time. Romney’s nomination could be considered the GOP’s first attempt at finding an Obama-like candidate to appeal to the party’s youthful base, but that was obviously a failure. Rand Paul could be seen as another option for 2016, but his views are far too libertarian to satisfy the Republican traditionalists. Rubio bridges those gaps nicely, making himself the most encouraging candidate to enter the race thus far. Like Obama, his campaign will be tested by questions about his inexperience, especially as compared to Clinton. It remains to be seen whether the outcome will be the same for Rubio as it was for Obama in 2008.