It hit me last night like "Another Brick in the Wall" -- the best way to describe Marco Rubio's political essence and career is to think of the super awesome band, Creed, which was one of the best hard rock bands of the past 20 years and is still super awesome.
Briefly, I woo you with these points...
Rubio is often miscast as a tea partier, because when he ran for Senate against Charlie Crist, he could only do it with the help of tea partiers. Literally, everyone else was for Crist.
Thus, most of national conservatives' first exposure to Rubio was as an uber-conservative tea party guy who was running against the most hated Republican in the country.
Please rewind to the year 2000 when Creed released "With Arms Wide Open", which was the first Creed song that millions of people heard.
Sure, rock fans knew about them much earlier, but WAWO brought Scott Stapp's velvety voice into the waiting rooms of dentists, insurance agencies, and bread aisles across the country (it could even soothe babies in the womb and make them look like baby lions -- just like Scott himself). Such were the powers and reach of Scott Stapp.
Thus, this relatively treacly mess of a song -- which wasn't an accurate representation of the band -- became millions' first impression.
Don't you see? Isn't it clear? The 2010 Florida Senate race was Marco Rubio's "With Arms Wide Open."
It was the breakout moment, but it wasn't an entirely accurate representation of either his strength and background or Creed's.
Remember, Rubio ascended the Florida political ranks as a conservative, sure, but with an establishment-mindset. He was Speaker of the Florida House before his rise to fame.
Thus, before becoming the ultimate outsider in his race against Crist, he was a conservative insider who preferred playing within fairly conventional rules.
Likewise, Creed was a much different band before "With Arms Wide Open." Remember their first viral song -- "My Own Prison?" Dark and nothing to do with babies, unless you count those one-eyed toy babies with no clothes on at the Goodwill.
But Creed, just like Rubio, was talented and broad enough to forge and occupy a unique space.
No other rock act that sounded like Creed could do a ballad like "With Arms Wide Open". Likewise, Rubio's talent and ability to merge genres allowed him to pivot from a career as Speaker of the Florida State House into a role of ultimate outsider.
Here's the problem, though. Both guys' break-through moments were so big that they threatened to pigeonhole them into a very rigid box.
After "With Arms Wide Open", you can see a dangerous tension developing in Creed. They continued to load their albums with really aggressive, darker stuff, but they added songs like "Don't Stop Dancing" (which literally included the lines "Children/Don't stop dancing/Believe you can fly").
Those were then turned into singles that angered fans of their more aggressive stuff. Meanwhile, their more aggressive stuff shocked, appalled and horrified their new hygienist and insurance agent fans.
That's exactly what Rubio has faced since becoming Senator, what now lies before him, and why he didn't endorse Romney earlier. He can't afford to let down his national tea party fanbase, but he's a guy who does prefer to work within a more conventional political structure.
So.... what happens next?
Well, after "Arms Wide Open", Creed released a very successful album, but the band never truly settled on what it was, and that was partially thanks to Scott Stapp, who could never really settle on who he was.
On one hand, he'd give interviews, talking passionately about his Christianity and desire to be a "light", but on the other hand, he'd try to ape Jim Morrison, and the wheels really came off when he groveled on the floor and forgot lyrics and tried to do other Satanic things that just seemed like he was playing rock star. Now, I get the tension between good and evil, and that can create compelling things, but somewhere along the way, Stapp lost pretty much everyone.
For Rubio, this is another pivotal moment in his career. Is he good enough to straddle the line between outsider and insider (To most -- but not me -- Creed ultimately failed).
Right now the future is bright. Rubio has so many people on his side. But Creed guided us to another world/Time and Time again, and we made our escape with Scott Stapp, and were led to a place where blind men could see in streets of gold.
Can Rubio do that for the GOP? Does he have a "higher" moment in store for Republicans? Can he become the immortal that Stapp was for but a brief, flickering moment?
"My own prison" (Rubio's career in the Florida legislature).
"With arms wide open" (Rubio's 2010 Senate race).
"Don't stop dancing" (Rubio going to dinner with Haley Barbour at 6 PM; then sneaking off to sup with Matt Kibbe at 9 PM).
"Higher" (Rubio's convention speech, if he plays it right).