This week there have been many post-mortems attempting to discern why Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign crashed and burned. But this post-mortem is different and somewhat harsh because Rubio’s failure as a presidential candidate was avoidable and predictable from my perspective as a Florida voter.
Avoidable, because from day one he had no business running for president. Predictable, because on Feb. 3, 2015, I wrote a piece titled “Why Marco Rubio should run for re-election as U.S. Senator instead of for President.”
As the title suggests, I discussed all the reasons why Rubio should stay and fight for his Senate seat given that his reelection was not assured. Adding to my argument, I linked to a Hill piece dated December 24, 2014, titled “10 senators who could lose in 2016,” and Rubio was listed.
If you are wondering why Rubio got trounced in his home state presidential primary, the seeds of his humiliating defeat were written in these two paragraphs in February, 2015. The quote is from a Florida “power player” (who I could not name) followed by my own analysis:
‘Marco is in his first-term and we are in the midst of a bad experience with a one-term senator as president. He has a very good chance of winning re-election as a senator and the Republican Party needs him in the Senate.’
I caveat that ‘very good chance of winning’ only if Rubio scales back his quest for national stature so he appears less power-hungry and spends more time in Florida fighting for his Senate seat. There are many Republican leaders in Florida who agree with this assessment.
Also, mentioned at the end of my piece was that a poll in early 2015 found only 15% of Florida voters believed that Rubio should run for president in 2016.
Then and now, the operative word for Rubio among Florida voters was “power-hungry.”
As a Florida voter active in local Republican circles, I observed that power-hungry was an adjective often used by my Republican club friends to describe Rubio. They were the same ones who had invested so much time and effort electing him to the Senate in 2010.
After all, Rubio was the “tea-party darling” who won his seat in a contentious three-way-race against then Republican Gov. Charlie Crist (forced by Rubio to run as an independent) and Democrat Congressman Kendrick Meek.
Once Senator Rubio was launched, Florida Republicans had high hopes that he would blossom and grow into a national conservative leader representing Florida for many years.
Therefore, when Rubio announced on April 13, 2015 that he was running for president after having served only four years of his first six-year term, many Florida Republicans felt abandoned and thought that he had caught a bad case of “Potomac fever.”
Sure, in the presidential race many of these same people were backing Rubio over Jeb Bush. But still there remained a nagging feeling that Rubio was “getting ahead of himself” or “in too much of a hurry” and “not ready to be president.”
By all accounts, after having run a respectable presidential campaign, Rubio has established himself as a national leader. At the same time however, his future political career as an elected officeholder in Florida looks dim after he won only 27% of the vote among registered Republicans in the closed presidential primary.
Was Rubio being punished by those same Republican voters who had elected him to the Senate in 2010? This 2010 Rubio voter believes that is exactly what happened, as do others I have spoken with.
Going forward, there has always been chatter that if Rubio’s presidential aspirations came up short he could always run for governor in 2018 since Gov. Rick Scott is term-limited.
The problem with that thinking now is that Rubio has shown Florida Republicans that he is only using the Sunshine State as a national springboard, and judging by Tuesday’s results, they feel used. Thus, in the unlikely event that he runs in 2018 and is elected governor, voters could rightly fear that Rubio would once again abandon his office and run for president in 2020. Certainly that would arise as a negative campaign issue in both a primary and general election.
Today, Marco Rubio’s best chance of staying in the public eye is landing a talk show over at Fox News. Let’s call that the “Mike Huckabee option.” Then, after a few years of continuous national exposure Rubio could run for president again in 2020 and only leave behind an empty seat on a TV show.
Cross-posted at the Washington Examiner