June 16, 2016
A week from now we’ll know for sure. That’s the deadline for filing in the Republican Senate Primary for Florida. Apparently, Marco Rubio will give us his answer by the end of the weekend. Will he or won’t he? After pledging he was going home or to the White House, the senator is debating running for re-election after all.
Politicians change their mind. He wouldn’t be the first or the last. With Senate control hanging in the balance and none of his GOP successor possibilities leading the Democratic competition in polls, or easily raising large sums of money, even a wounded Rubio is probably a better bet.
Mitch McConnell has plenty of reason to encourage Marco to give it a shot. Donald Trump has every reason to tell him to play. Ditto for the Florida GOP. He’d previously endorsed longtime pal and Florida Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera, but after the two spoke at the scene of the Pulse massacre in Orlando, Lopez-Cantera offered to get out of the way.
Rubio has institutional support in D.C., a potentially relieved state party organization, absolution from his friend, and after Orlando, an excuse for why he would change course. Sure, some will accuse him of opportunism. The two GOP candidates who vow to stay in even if Rubio enters, and his eventual Democratic opponent will filet him for this.
Less than a year ago he told presidential debate viewers he couldn’t accomplish enough in the Senate and needed to move up a level to get the job done. Jeb Bush attacked his absenteeism. While the ex-governor would surely consider an endorsement, the Democrat will put Jeb’s previous comments on an infinite loop for as long as he has the funding (ok, that’s probably not infinite, but the Democratic Senatorial Committee is going to funnel a ton of money into the Sunshine State.)
It won’t be an easy run. It’s also not what Rubio (or his wife) was hoping for. If he fell short, the idea was two years of earning as much money as humanly possible (without being a lobbyist or working on Wall Street/for a hedge fund), before turning to the 2020 campaign as soon as the 2018 midterms are over.
That sounds way better than a couple more years in the Senate. As the Clintons will tell you, someone who can give a good speech can make a lot of money. While the Rubios are better off than the average American family, they have 4 kids headed for college in the next decade or so. Making a quick $5-10 million pre-tax would really help.
Running for president is easier if you’re out of office. Hillary Clinton had plenty of advantages over her opponents, but not having to worry about rushing back to D.C. to cast votes was one of them. Chris Christie is just one example of an itinerant incumbent governor who managed to piss off his constituents by moving to New Hampshire. It’s not a must, but from Ronald Reagan to Trump, unencumbered candidates have had an edge.
As long as they’re still in the public spotlight. Will the public care about Marco Rubio a few years from now? In the spring of 2004, John Edwards was a big deal. He finished second to John Kerry in the Democratic nomination race and was ultimately chosen to round out the ticket. Like Rubio, Edwards was one and done in the Senate. If he didn’t win, he’d prep for the next round.
Even with the advantage of being the vice presidential nominee, Edwards was surpassed by Clinton and Barack Obama by the time 2008 rolled around. Hillary was a bigger name, Obama the latest and greatest. Edwards had no real platform. While his uh indiscretions would have eventually doomed him anyway, the campaign was dead before the National Enquirer extracted a pound of flesh.
Ex-one term senators just don’t hold that much interest, even if they look nice and sound pretty good. Rubio has another, more important issue. He lost his home state badly in the primary round. Edwards won the ’04 caucuses in North Carolina, even though he’d exited the race six weeks prior. It’s reasonable to wonder how Rubio has any presidential path until the voters of Florida refresh his viability.
Ted Cruz is showing every sign of planning to try again in 2020. While Cruz is clearly a flawed candidate, now and forever, he did finish ahead of Rubio. The list of GOP candidates who finished in the second tier of challengers before winning the nomination on a subsequent try is very short. While it’s a little tougher to measure this in the pre-primary era, I think Bob Dole is the one and only example in Republican history.
Dole finished well behind Bush the Elder who finished short of Reagan in 1980. He tried again and moved up to second, before winning in 1996. He wasn’t able to secure the nomination until the guy who finished ahead of him was done. Trump winning the nomination as an outsider with no political experience and limited ideological ties to the party has a previous example. Wendell Willkie, 1940. It’s a more listener-friendly version of the identical script.
Rubio leaping over Cruz next time does not. It would take something noticeable to break the pattern. Winning over the same Floridians who just rejected him would qualify. The governor’s race in 2018 is a thing, but not if Rubio wants to run for president in 2020. The only reason he’d want to wait for 2024 is a Trump victory, but he has to decide this week, not in November, and The Donald isn’t looking like a winner as of today.
The presidency isn’t handed to anyone. It’s a very difficult prize to attain. It requires taking big risks. Most applicants are rejected. Many don’t get to try twice. If Marco Rubio has any true desire to go to the White House as anything other than a tourist, he needs to throw his hat back in the ring.
He may lose the Senate race. He may fail to contend for the presidency even if he wins. But this is his best shot at redemption. Run Marco, run.