Is Marco Rubio The Generational Change The Grand Old Party Needs? : It's All Politics Since the 1980s, Democrats have had a serious presidential candidate pressing the need for generational change. Now Republicans have the young candidates, and Rubio is running as the fresh face.

Is Marco Rubio The Generational Change The Grand Old Party Needs?

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Democrats have often nominated next-generation presidential candidates - think John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama. Well, this year, it's the Republicans, with Marco Rubio leading the charge. NPR's Mara Liasson reports on the shift.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: In the past, Republicans nominated older candidates - think Dole, McCain, Romney and Ronald Reagan. But this year, it's the Democrats who are choosing among senior citizens. And for Kellyanne Conway, a Republican strategist, the contrast is a relief.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: It's been a total role reversal. And it's really exciting to Republican strategists like me to have people of our generation actually competing solidly for the presidential nomination.

LIASSON: There are a handful of Republicans under 50 running this year, but Marco Rubio is the only one that's made his youth the centerpiece of his campaign. Rubio rarely misses a chance to talk about it. At the Values Voter Summit, here's how he came back after the prolonged cheering that greeted his announcement about John Boehner's retirement.


MARCO RUBIO: And I'm not here today to bash anyone, but the time has come to turn the page. The time has come to turn the page and allow a new generation of leadership in this country.

LIASSON: There are different ways of channeling that antiestablishment anger you hear there, and Rubio is using his youth to do that, says Republican pollster Kristen Anderson.

KRISTEN ANDERSON: I think both being someone who can speak with young Americans, who understands pop-culture, who's comfortable in that world, but also sounds like a grown-up, is going to be important for bridging that generation divide. And I think that that's where he's trying to harness this kind of anti-status quo, antiestablishment frustration, but channel it in a way that will have an appeal across generations.

LIASSON: Rubio did exactly that in the last GOP debate, when he answered Donald Trump's criticism of candidates who speak Spanish. He said, I want to tell you a story.


RUBIO: My grandfather instilled in me the belief that I was blessed to live in the one society in all of human history where even I, the son of a bartender and a maid, could aspire to have anything and be anything that I was willing to work hard to achieve. But he taught me that in Spanish because it was the language he was most comfortable in. And he became a conservative even though he got his news in Spanish. And so I do give interviews in Spanish, and here's why - because I believe that free enterprise and limited government is the best way to help people who are trying to achieve upward mobility. And if they get their news in Spanish, I want them to hear that directly from me, not from a translator at Univision.

LIASSON: There's a lot packed in there. Rubio was reminding everyone he's young, he respects the wisdom of his elders, he's the Spanish-speaking child of immigrants and that he can explain conservative values in everyday language. Rubio got a big boost from his crisp performance in that debate, where he also tried to show that, while he may look much younger than his 44 years, he knows enough to be president. Here again, Rubio was able to pack a conservative, small-government message into an answer about foreign policy.


RUBIO: The federal government does all kinds of things it's not supposed to be doing. It regulates bathrooms. It regulates schools that belong to local communities. But the one thing that the federal government must do, the one thing that only the federal government can do, is keep us safe. And a president better be up to date on those issues on his first day in office, on her first day in office.

LIASSON: Rubio's team bristles when the comparison is made to another young, charismatic minority candidate. But while Barack Obama is not the comparison any Republican wants, Republican strategist Rick Wilson says, rather than spoiling the field for other first-term Senators, Obama may have actually paved the way for Rubio.

RICK WILSON: Barack Obama's election proved this - is that affect is as important as policy because Barack Obama's essential policy statements in the 2008 campaign were, I'll end the war in Iraq and hope.

LIASSON: So maybe Republicans are willing to look at a young Senator who has cut in line.

WILSON: This is really a question of the future versus the past. And the wait-your-turn philosophy in the Republican Party didn't serve us very well.

LIASSON: But for Rubio to win the nomination, he'll have to beat a bunch of other candidates, including his mentor, Jeb Bush. There's only room for one Floridian on the ticket. And yesterday, Bush fired the first shot in what could become a bitter generational battle between two old friends. Bush suggested on MSNBC that Marco Rubio does not have the leadership skills to fix things. Translation - he's too young and inexperienced. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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