Marco Rubio vs. Hillary Clinton: Can They Both Lose?

There are good reasons to hope that neither presumptive presidential candidate emerges as a nominee.
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Senator Marco Rubio is less accomplished than Hillary Clinton in virtually every way. Even if you prefer his agenda, there's no denying that he has less leadership experience, less foreign-policy experience, a less detailed grasp of domestic-policy detail, and fewer instances of speaking intelligently without prepared remarks*. Were I charged with capital murder, and had to hire either Rubio or Clinton to head up my defense team, I'd hire Clinton. Wouldn't you? Were I improbably on the board of directors of a corporation that extracted rents by hiring Washington insiders, and wanted to hire a CEO who'd maximize my morally dubious profits, I would hire Clinton before Rubio. She'd be more competent.

It's little wonder that in attacking the former secretary of state this week, Rubio called her "a 20th-century candidate" who "does not offer an agenda for moving America forward in the 21st century." How could he juxtapose himself favorably with Clinton except by alluding to her ample baggage and his relative youth (especially since their foreign-policy views are more alike than either would like to admit)?

Clinton's response was pablum. "Every election is about the future," she said. "And certainly anyone who wishes to run for president has to make it clear how the experience that you've had in the past and what you believe and how you have acted on those beliefs will translate into positive results for the American people." 

Unfortunately for Clinton, her significant, varied experience—rivaled in recent elections only by Dick Cheney—doesn't much recommend her for higher office. If her time as first lady, U.S. senator, and secretary of state are predictive, a Hillary Clinton administration would include a failed attempt at passing landmark domestic legislation followed by selling out a minority group to shore up centrist credibility. (I'm guessing it would be Muslim Americans instead of gays this time.) Were there a major terrorist attack, history indicates that Clinton would back a catastrophic war of choice in an unrelated country; sign legislation that needlessly undermines civil liberties; and ramp up mass surveillance. Her career is marked by small, respectable victories and hugely consequential failures. 

The Republican Party can do better than Rubio, who would be out of his depth in the Oval Office. And Democrats can do better than Clinton, whose votes for Iraq and the Patriot Act, coziness with Wall Street, and slowness to embrace gay equality illustrate how many hugely significant judgment calls she has gotten wrong. I could accept a candidate who had learned from their biggest mistakes over the years. But Clinton is as willing as ever to intervene abroad even in instances when she herself admits that nonintervention could well be the correct call.

Choosing between these two in a general election would be a no-win situation. The most compelling argument for each of their candidacies is the inchoate notion many partisan Republicans and Democrats have that they'd be electable.

*This initially said "a teleprompter." Rubio actually often reads from pieces of paper instead.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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