Senator Marco Rubio — now suddenly running for reelection — should pledge to Florida voters that he will not run for president in 2020.
As a Florida Republican voter that is my advice. Now here is the backstory from one who has closely followed Rubio’s Senate career since he burst on the national scene in 2010.
On June 22, two days before today’s deadline for Florida’s federal legislative primary, Senator Marco Rubio made his surprise announcement. Now his dramatic turnaround offers me a second opportunity within five months to cast my vote for one of Rubio’s primary opponents.
The first was the March 15 presidential primary where Donald Trump trounced Rubio by a margin of 45.7 to 27 percent and subsequently, Rubio withdrew from the race. (I voted for John Kasich because I thought he had the best shot of defeating Hillary.)
The second time will be during the Senate primary on August 30. This is when Rubio will face off against successful home builder Carlos Beruff and former CIA operative turned entrepreneur defense contractor Todd Wilcox — the only two holdouts from what was, until recently, a crowded field of five candidates.
The three dropouts are all office holders — Florida lieutenant governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Congressmen Ron DeSantis and David Jolly. Both congressman have now reversed course and are running for reelection. Call it the “Rubio reelection ripple effect.”
As an active Florida Republican who often attends local political events, I take Rubio’s late entry into the primary very personally. For example, in August of 2015 a Palm Beach Republican Party dinner was the first time I heard Lopez-Cantera, Wilcox, and DeSantis speak. All three were impressive, all worthy of replacing Rubio, and all working extremely hard to win over the GOP activists in the packed ballroom a year out from theprimary. Here is a local newspaper report in which I was quoted. That evening no one could ever have imagined that Rubio would re-enter the race.
Fast forward to June 2 when four of the primary candidates with the exception of Beruff participated in a debate/dinner event in Boca Raton attended by over 300 people. The buzz that evening was how rumors of a Rubio last minute entry had frozen the fundraising efforts of the three officeholder candidates who were not millionaire businessmen like Wilcox and Beruff.
Even Lt. Governor Lopez-Cantera, a close friend of Rubio, told me he was confident that Rubio would not enter the race because Rubio was scheduled to headline a fundraiser for him on June 24, the filing deadline.
Obviously, Rubio changed his mind after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell applied heavy pressure and likely promised Rubio who knows what future Senate leadership roles if reelected.
Like I said, I take Rubio’s change of heart very personally since I had planned on voting for Congressman DeSantis. But now on August 30 I will be voting for Todd Wilcox since I find him very impressive and frankly, Rubio’s unabashed quest for power scares me.
Rubio’s quest is one I chronicled starting on February 3, 2015 when I wrote, “Why Florida Senator Marco Rubio Should Run for Reelection Instead of President.” Surely Rubio’s staff saw the piece since it was linked on Politico Playbook. It was sincerely written from my perspective as a Florida Republican who had voted for Senate candidate Rubio in 2010 when he was the “tea-party darling.” Then Rubio impressed me when he won 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.
In retrospect, here is a telling paragraph that if heeded, could have saved Rubio (and many others) a great deal of time, money and energy:
Given Rubio’s low national electability coupled with his second or third tier ranking in the GOP nomination battle, doesn’t it makes more sense for the 43-year-old Rubio to showcase his considerable political talents by winning reelection in a major swing state during a presidential year?
Furthermore, I referenced a Mason-Dixon poll that indicated “only 15% of Florida voters believe Senator Rubio should run for president in 2016. Whereas, 57% prefer that he run for re-election to the U.S. Senate.”
Ignoring his constituents, two months later on April 13, 2015 Rubio announced he was running for president.
Ten months later, on February 2, 2016, and one news cycle after Rubio placed a close third in the Iowa Caucus, it appeared that he could break through and morph into the “establishment candidate.” I echoed that sentiment with a piece headlined,“Marco Rubio has The ‘Big Mo.’ Is He the One the Establishment Has Been Waiting For?”
But that moment was fleeting and predictably Rubio did not have the national chops to rise above a crowded, noisy field with Trump absorbing all the media oxygen.
Then predictably, it all came crashing down on March 15 when Trump trumped Rubio by 18 percentage points in the Florida primary.
Days later I wrote a Rubio post-mortem titled, “The Real Reason Rubio Crashed and Burned.” Here is an excerpt:
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.”
With Rubio heavily courted by Senate leadership to run for reelection, he will be pegged as a “tool of Washington” in a year when outsiders with no political experience are all the rage. Thus, it is no surprise that Rubio’s remaining primary opposition are the two self-funded wealthy businessmen, Beruff and Wilcox with sound arguments against Rubio.
Even through Florida Governor Rick Scott is not endorsing Rubio over his friend Beruff, my guess is Rubio will win the primary but his chances in November remain uncertain.
The good news is a new poll showing Rubio leading his likely opponent. That is Patrick Murphy, an extremely flawed two-term Congressman who the Miami Herald has crushed this week in an expose’ about his career. But one must not negate the impact of Murphy having a “D” next to his name. After all, this is “purple state” where a recent poll shows Hillary Clinton increasingly likely to carry Florida and with it, the White House. Unfortunately for Rubio, Clinton’s millions in campaign cash backed by an extensive organization could buy her some long coattails.
Among Rubio’s electability problems are Democrats who will pound the fact that Rubio is only using his Senate seat as a springboard to run for president in 2020 and most Republicans would be hard-pressed to disagree. Given that starting in 2015 Rubio practically abandoned his office to run for President – will Florida voters they give him a second opportunity to do the same? The Naples News raises this important issue:
“To his credit, Rubio readily admits he changed his mind to run when he had said he wouldn’t. He now won’t promise to stay six years. That’s not promising for the GOP.”
Meanwhile, if Rubio wins the August 30 primary, he will have my vote in November because keeping the Senate in GOP control is a priority, especially if the White House remains in Democrat hands. However, since Rubio did not take my advice back in February of 2015, I hope he will listen to this suggestion and pledge to Florida voters that if reelected, he will not to seek the presidency in 2020.
Such a pledge would go a long way to dispel Rubio’s image as an overly ambitious, power-hungry young man in a hurry.
As a consolation, Rubio could still seek the White House in 2024 at age 53 or even in 2028 at the ripe old age of 57. At age 45, Rubio has plenty of time to prove that he is truly worthy to ascend to the highest office in the land and, along the way, earn the trust of Florida voters who hold the key to his success.
Cross-posted at RedState