“Marco Rubio made me cry for joy,” said former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, introducing him at Rubio’s victory party after he won his U.S. Senate race.

After a political tsunami like this month’s election — a Republican net gain of six senators, 60-plus Congress members, six governors and a record 680 state legislators — you might think it would be hard to choose the biggest wave. Think again.

“Marco Rubio made me cry for joy,” said former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, introducing him at Rubio’s victory party after he won his U.S. Senate race.

Rubio won big in a three-man race vs. GOP governor-turned-independent Charlie Crist and Democrat Kendrick Meek. To quote Barack Obama, no one did more “shellacking” than the son of exiles from Castro’s Cuba: dad, a bartender; mom, a maid.

Rubio’s appeal is political and personal. Born in Miami, he worked his way through school, got degrees from the Universities of Florida and Miami and, in 2000, was elected to the Florida House of Representatives at 28. Youth is not always wasted on the young.

Rubio wrote a book, became Florida’s youngest House speaker, then challenged Crist in the 2010 GOP Senate primary. Behind by 30 points, he used the nascent tea party to close the gap and last week crush Crist by a million votes. Rubio has a populist’s DNA, movie-star looks, and grasp of language, values and assimilation. Such an amalgam is hard to find.

For two decades, top Republicans have been unable to communicate, thus persuade. George W. Bush, Bob Dole, and John McCain never knew how to rhetorically leapfrog a far-left press to lead their right-center country. By contrast, Rubio articulates limited government, sane tax and spend, and even a pox on Republicans: “Voters (have) offered a second chance for (them) to be the thing they said they were going to be.”

That “chance” requires fiscal sanity: e.g., ending earmarks. It also means luring socially conservative minorities for whom God and family mean more than NASDAQ stock. A Rasmussen poll says black and Hispanic support for religious symbols on public property tops even the nation’s 87 percent. From Florida to California, each overwhelmingly backed referenda defining marriage between a woman and a man.

More than ever, Democrats dance with leftist pressure groups, bowing and bartering. Unable to outbid them, the GOP should use Ronald Reagan’s “community of values” — American exceptionalism vs. tribalism; melting pot vs. identity politics — to eclipse sex, race and creed. Each affirms Rubio’s message: U.S. unity trumps ethnic solidarity.

Theodore Roosevelt warned, “Anyone who calls himself a hyphenated American is not a real American.” Most agree, not wishing us to become France. “The United States is the greatest Nation in all of human history,” says Rubio, ideally cast to help Hispanics assimilate, which is roughly defined as learning English, prizing U.S. history, spurning group grievance and respecting the law. Most Republicans shun this, fearing the usual epithets (fascist, Nazi, mob) from the usual suspects (elites, hating the middle class). Don’t expect Rubio to cower. His eyes are on a bigger prize.

Imagine Rubio as connecting tissue between and among races. This will help America: also, the GOP, since as people assimilate they increasingly vote Republican.

None of this is inevitable. The ex-college football player must show he can hit “big-league pitching.” Rubio must spurn the role of faux messiah: for evidence, see Obama. He should not be only of the tea party. His real army, the Great Middle Class. He must know that Republicans will say “show me.” They have been disappointed before.

For now, Rubio bids to link social and fiscal conservatives, woo the growing Hispanic bloc, and articulate America as Reagan’s “Shining City on a Hill.” No one knows know who will be the GOP presidential nominee in 2012. Improbably, a week after Election Day, many know their candidate for vice president.

Curt Smith is the author of 13 books and a former speechwriter to President George H.W. Bush. E-mail him at curtsmith@netacc.net.