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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Only 11 days after the re-election of Barack Obama, Marco Rubio flew to Iowa to informally begin his quest for the presidency in 2016.

He didn’t come out and admit it, but there’s no other reason for a Florida senator to visit the Hawkeye State in November, or any other time. Iowa holds the first big primary and is therefore treated with ludicrous attentiveness by future candidates.

At this point, only shut-ins and the morbidly curious are paying any attention to presidential politics. Everybody else is exhausted.

Yet last week, Rubio and Rep. Paul Ryan, who shared the GOP ticket with Mitt Romney, gave back-to-back speeches at a Washington hotel. The event was widely covered and analyzed.

Ryan, who’s trying to extricate himself from the wreckage of the Romney campaign, is also running for the White House in 2016. In the absence of a Gaga-style makeover and mass voter amnesia, he can’t win. This year he couldn’t even deliver his home state of Wisconsin.

Rubio, on the other hand, will be worth watching once voters recover from the hangover of 2012. His appeal is potentially broader than that of anybody on the GOP horizon, which isn’t saying much, but he’s still their best hope.

If the guys running the party were smart, here’s what they’d do: They would put Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, in charge of writing an immigration-reform bill that included a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented aliens already living and working in the United States.

No single act would do more to convince Hispanic voters that the GOP wasn’t innately hostile toward them. That’s crucial because the White House cannot be won by a candidate who scares off Hispanics the way Romney and John McCain did.

If Rubio could produce an immigration package that passed the Senate and survived the neoconservative outcry in the House, Obama would sign it in a heartbeat. With that under his belt, Rubio would be the clear frontrunner.

Although elected as a hard-right conservative, he’s been sidling back toward the middle. It’s the only possible way to beat Hillary Rodham Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee.

The other night in Washington, Rubio made an unsubtle dig at the post-election whining of Romney and right-wing talk-show gasbags.

“Some say that our problem in America is that the American people have changed,” Rubio said, “that too many people want things from our government. But I am still convinced that the overwhelming majority of our people just want what my parents had — a chance.”