Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was crisp, compelling, and dynamic at the first Republican presidential debate last week. In an extensive follow-up interview on Meet the Press this Sunday, he was thoughtful and energetic. Each occasion highlighted the potential of Rubio, a 44-year-old Cuban-American, to offer a fresh, forward-leaning image in 2016 to a Republican Party now inordinately reliant on the votes of older whites.
"For our party," Rubio insisted on Meet the Press, "it's incredibly important that we be seen as a movement about the future."
And yet, in those same forums, Rubio underscored his renunciation of the comprehensive immigration-reform legislation he helped steer through the Senate in 2013, and embraced a position on abortion more conservative than any Republican presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan.
In that way, Rubio crystallized the most complex electoral challenge facing Republicans in 2016: navigating the towering waves of demographic and cultural change transforming American life.
With opinion divided over President Obama's impact on both the nation's economy and its security, the Democrats' most potent weapon in the 2016 election remains the sense that they are more connected than the GOP to the nation's evolving cultural and demographic dynamics. As last week's GOP first- and second-tier debates demonstrated, the party's presidential field is struggling to steer between a country that is rapidly reconfiguring itself, and a conservative base resistant to many of those changes.