While the process of attrition reduces the number of passengers aboard the GOP Clown Car, Marco Rubio may be ready to step up as Establishment Republicans look for an alternative to front-running outsiders Trump, Carson and Fiorina. So far, Scott Walker and Rick Perry have abandoned the race, while Jeb Bush (Rubio’s former mentor) is on a downward trajectory. Mike Huckabee’s virulent homophobia is proving to be his undoing (he’s currently polling at around 3%), and blatant hypocrite Ted Cruz is polling unfavorably across the board.

Meanwhile, Marco Rubio has been quietly staying in the background…until now. Suddenly, he’s taken the Number 3 spot away from Ben Carson, at least in one CNN New Hampshire poll, while other polls show him running a close fourth. How Rubio’s rise is significant depends on what media source is reporting on it. According to the Boston Globe, Rubio is the “Establishment” candidate. At a time when the Republicans are terrified of Donald Trump and are dismissing Fiorina and Carson as “outsiders,” Rubio represents the “mainstream” GOP.  He’s also been keeping his proverbial powder dry. GOP campaign consultant Alex Castellanos points out:

One of the things people tell you about marketing is, if you want a long-lasting product, suppress the trend…if you burn hot for a few days, you’ll burn out. Rubio’s challenge is to demonstrate that he’s a serious and mature alternative, and burning bright [and] hot doesn’t do that for you.

The Washington Post puts a different spin on it, however. It’s about the corporate media playing the role of virtual kingmaker. Any time a GOP candidate rises in the polls, no matter how little, the corporate media focuses on those qualities behind the rising numbers. Potential voters see this and increasingly offer support. The corporate media reports on this growth in support and popularity, which draws even more support…and so the cycle continues. It’s working well for Rubio, because his poll numbers and approval ratings continue to rise, while those of other Republican candidates are falling.

Everyone loves a winner, and nothing succeeds like success, apparently. It’s similar to the ways in which the commercial media creates artificial celebrities out of no-talent hacks – who, nonetheless promise to make them a great deal of money.

This brings us to Rubio’s liabilities. At 44, Rubio is a “career politician.” He has held some kind of political office for the past eighteen years. With political outsiders like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders defining the race at a time when voters are sick and tired of “politics as usual” and approval of Congress at historic lows, Rubio’s status as a sitting Senator may not endear him to the electorate. Even his Congressional record is questionable. According to Globe reporter Matt Viser, Rubio has missed 11% of the votes in Congress – almost seven times the average of his colleagues. His vague and inconsistent stance on immigration reform has drawn fire as well. Even Rubio’s youthful appearance, which worked well for John F. Kennedy in 1960, may be not work as well for Rubio. Former New Hampshire state legislator Donna Sytek, whose endorsements are greatly coveted by GOP candidates, remarked, “I’ve heard people say, ‘I wish he were 10 or 20 years older, because he’s so youthful-looking.”

Rubio has one more potential liability, which was discussed here at The Ring of Fire awhile back – and that is his personal finances. This year, the issues of income inequality and a rigged capitalist system are front and center. People are buried in debts they cannot escape, have seen their incomes decline, are forced to defer purchases, and in some cases, work two jobs in order to make ends meet. At the same time, Washington DC bails out Wall Street and expects Main Street to accept “austerity” measures. Meanwhile, Rubio, earning an income that easily put him in the top 15% (which, as a legislator, he will continue to receive for the rest of his life, whether he’s elected or not), was, for some odd reason, still struggling with his finances. Rubio made poor decisions like many people – but unlike them, he got a bailout (in the form of a book deal). Yet, the first thing he did when he got that check was to buy an $80,000 luxury speed boat.

If the electorate fails to remember how poorly Rubio handles money – should he win the GOP nomination – rest assured that we at The Ring of Fire and other Progressive news outlets will be here to remind them.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.