In “The Talented Mr. Rubio” Bobo tells us not to underestimate Marco Rubio, and that his story and charisma offer much upside to his candidacy. In the comments “David Chowes” from New York City had a lengthy comment, but I’ll just quote the very first line, which could be used to sum up all of Bobo’s comments, past and future as well: “MR. BROOKS, ARE YOU JOKING? . . .” Mr. Nocera, in “Lessons From #RaceTogether,” says one initiative may have backfired, but Howard Schultz is as committed as ever to the mission. Here’s Bobo:
Political audiences always like patriotic rhetoric, but as several reporters have noticed, this year’s Republican audiences have a special hunger for it. The phrase “American exceptionalism” has become a rallying cry. There is a common feeling on the right that the American idea is losing force and focus, that the American dream is slipping out of reach, that America is stepping back from its traditional role in the world and that President Obama doesn’t forthrightly champion the American gospel.
Even more than normal, Republicans seem to want their candidate for president to be drenched in the red, white and blue.
Along comes Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Rubio, 43, doesn’t just speak in the ardent patriotic tones common to the children of immigrants like himself. His very life is the embodiment of the American dream: parents who tended bar and worked at Kmart with a son who rose to become a United States senator. His heritage demonstrates that the American dream is open to all who come here legally and work hard. He is what many Republicans want their country to be.
So there is beginning to be a certain charisma to his presidential campaign. It is not necessarily showing up in outright support. The first-term senator still shows up only with 8.3 percent support on the Real Clear Politics average of 2016 Republican presidential nomination polls, leaving him tied for 5th in the field. But primary voters are open to him; the upside is large.
As Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight pointed out, Rubio’s net favorable/unfavorable rating is higher than every other candidate except Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Philosophically, he is at the center of the party. In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 56 percent of Republican primary voters said they could see themselves supporting him even if he wasn’t their first choice at the time, which put him above every other candidate.
So it’s probably right to see Rubio as the second most likely nominee, slightly behind Jeb Bush and slightly ahead of Walker.
He is, for starters, the most talented politician in the race. Set aside who has the most money and who has the best infrastructure. (Overrated assets at this stage in the race.) Set aside the ideological buckets we pundits like to divide the candidates into. (Voters are not that attuned to factional distinctions.) In most primary battles, the crown goes to the most talented plausible candidate.
Rubio gives a very good speech. He has an upbeat and pleasant demeanor. He has a great personal story. His policy agenda is more detailed and creative than any of his rivals. He has an overarching argument — that it is time for a new generation to reform and replace archaic structures.
The circumstances of the race might benefit him. With such a big field, nobody is going to lock up the race early. Republicans will likely be beating each other up for months while looking across the aisle and seeing Hillary Clinton coasting along. At some point, they are going to want to settle on a consensus choice.
That point may come around March 15, when Florida holds its winner-take-all primary. Rubio was virtually tied with Bush among Florida Republicans, 31 percent to 30 percent, according to a Mason-Dixon pollconducted last week. If Bush is bloodied in the earlier primaries, Rubio could win Florida and loom as a giant.
His weaknesses are not killers. Rubio’s past support for comprehensive immigration reform irks activists. But it’s not clear if it will hurt him with the voters who are more divided on reform. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted last year, 66 percent of Republicans believed that illegal immigrants should be eligible for citizenship if they meet certain criteria. Immigration reform didn’t kill John McCain’s candidacy seven years ago.
Rubio’s inexperience concerns everybody. But at least he was speaker of the Florida House. As Jim Geraghty of National Review has detailed, his record running that body was pretty good. He was a tough but reasonably successful negotiator. On his first day in office, he handed each legislator a book with the cover “100 Innovative Ideas for Florida’s Future.” The pages were blank. He was inviting his members to fill them in — a nice collaborative touch.
Can Rubio win a general election? Well, he believes more in expanding the party than in just mobilizing the base. In his past races, he’s done better than generic Republican candidates because of his success with Hispanics. Youth is America’s oldest tradition. Who’s to say that voters won’t side for the relative outsider over the know-what-you’re-getting Hillary Clinton?
One big test for Rubio is this: Are Americans disillusioned with government or just disgusted? If they are disillusioned, they would likely want to play it safe and go with the experienced, low-risk candidates, Bush and Clinton. If they are disgusted, then they would be more likely to take a flier on change. The New American could be the guy.
Yeah, right… Go read Charlie Pierce at Esquire about him. Rubio can’t say anything without stepping on a rake. Here’s Mr. Nocera:
Howard Schultz has a way of making a believer out of you.
I first found this out in 2008, when I was writing the Talking Business column for the Business Day section of The Times. With Starbucks floundering, Schultz, who was then the company’s chairman, had fired the chief executive and retaken the position, which he hadn’t held since 2000. The question I asked, in a somewhat snarky column, was whether he was still “the right guy to bring Starbucks back.”
Not long afterward, Schultz asked me to meet in him New York. Instead of berating me, or even arguing with me, he simply told me his story, a story that began in the housing projects of Canarsie, Brooklyn, where he grew up poor, and ended in Seattle, where he bought a tiny coffee chain and turned it into, well, Starbucks.
What I remember most about that conversation was Schultz’s insistence that Starbucks could not be just another faceless corporation. It had to be a company with values. Hence his insistence that part-time employees get company-sponsored health care. Or the company’s early stance in giving benefits to same-sex partners. Or granting stock options to baristas. Listening to him, there could be no doubting his sincerity — or his passion.
I turned out to be completely wrong in questioning his ability to return Starbucks to financial strength; its market value today is around $72 billion, up from $5.3 billion in 2008. And I admit, as I’ve gotten to know him better, I’ve lost much of the skepticism I might have once had about his powerful sense of social mission.
In recent years, he has tried to use his voice — and Starbucks’ footprint, as he likes to call it — to help not just his employees but the country. In 2011, fed up with political polarization, he called for a political contribution boycott until the two parties began to work together again. With the economy stagnant, he began an effort to make small business loans, partly with money from the Starbucks Foundation and partly with customer contributions. Last year, his concern for the plight of veterans led him toco-author a book about veterans with Rajiv Chandrasekaran, who covered the Iraq war for The Washington Post; make a $30 million contribution toward veterans’ efforts from his family foundation; and vow to employ 10,000 veterans. (Chandrasekaran became such a believer that he left The Post to start a media company, in association with Starbucks, that will use storytelling to tackle important social issues.) Some of these ideas were stronger than others, but they were all genuine attempts to make a difference, rather than corporate gimmicks.
All of which brings me, inevitably, to his latest initiative, on race relations. Last month, Schultz started something he called Starbucks’ Race Together campaign, suggesting that baristas write #RaceTogether on coffee cups, and see where that led. It backfired. “Honest to God, if you start to engage me in a race conversation before I’ve had my morning coffee, it will not end well,” tweeted Gwen Ifill, the co-anchor of “PBS NewsHour.” And that was one of the tamer tweets. Schultz was mocked for, essentially, being a middle-aged white guy who was tackling a subject that was beyond his ken — or that was inappropriate for a corporation.
But I think that, despite the mistakes with Race Together, Schultz’s actions over the past few years have earned him the benefit of the doubt. He is the rare chief executive who is willing to stand for more than quarterly profits, and isn’t that what we want from our corporate chieftains? And whatever mistakes Starbucks made in rolling out its campaign on race, it will learn from them.
So will Schultz, who says he has no intention of turning back. So far, he has held 10 forums for employees to speak their mind on race relations; I watched a tape of a recent one in Atlanta. It was raw, visceral and, at times, deeply moving. He has promised that Starbucks will hire 10,000 youths who are neither in school nor in the work force. He is going to open stores in disadvantaged neighborhoods, including in Ferguson, Mo. All of his initiatives are geared toward one ultimate goal: to re-establish the American dream, “not for a select few, but for everyone,” as he put it to me in an email. He wants future generations to have the same chances he had.
“I view this effort as being quintessentially Howard,” said Mellody Hobson, the president of Ariel Investments, who sits on the Starbucks board. When I brought up the criticism of Schultz, Hobson, who is African-American, replied, “If he wakes up one day and decides he wants to help improve race relations, what’s wrong with that? He could be doing something else. Or nothing.”
Sounds like Hobson’s become a believer, too.
Never did like Starbucks — probably because I don’t care for scorched coffee.