Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Should Marco Rubio Run for Reelection?

Sen. Marco Rubio has had, admittedly, a rough year.  Possibly the first year of his politically-charmed life where he actually had to deal with some setbacks.  Prior to this year, he had been a Golden Boy in the Republican Party, and had been politically quite lucky.  He won his first primary by just 64 votes in a safe seat.  From there he cruised up the leadership ladder in the Florida State House, eventually becoming the Speaker of the House, and cementing relationships with many of the backbench Republicans in the legislature that would help to launch his political career statewide.  He used the conservative bonafides that he amassed during his time as Speaker to best a wildly-popular Gov. Charlie Crist in the 2010 election, when he had the good fortune to be a hardline conservative at the exact right time (at the peak of the Tea Party movement), catapulting him into the Senate.  With that win, he became the poster boy for the Republican Party, to the point where many people (including myself) assumed that, should Jeb Bush (his former mentor) fall, he would become the Republican nominee for the presidency.  At the beginning of the actual primary voting season, he was even doing well enough one assumed he'd be the one who would take out Trump (remember, as recently as Iowa none of us actually thought Trump would be the nominee).  He took a close third in Iowa, and was gaining in the New Hampshire polls.

Then Rubio got gut-punched in what will clearly be defined by political historians as one of the most crucial moments of the presidential cycle-when Chris Christie destroyed Rubio in a debate that was clearly meant as a Hail Mary pass by his campaign, but one that was caught by Donald Trump and John Kasich.  Rubio never recovered, and didn't know how to handle anything other than an upward trajectory.  He had his "little hands" moment, which was definitely a low-point for all of us in the country watching the GOP debates, and then lost his home state of Florida in a blowout to Trump.  Since then, he's returned to the Senate, with many assuming he'd go quietly into retirement, and then maybe becoming a multi-millionaire lobbyist before translating that position into perhaps another run for office in the future.

That was at least before the last couple of weeks, when Rubio has been acting very much like a candidate who is going to run for reelection.  He has dropped the "never" and replaced it with a "maybe" when people ask if he will change his mind and run for the open Florida seat, which is looking increasingly imperiled on the behalf of the GOP (and that seat could be the key to the Democrats taking the majority in the Senate, particularly if Hillary Clinton wins in November).  He has lambasted the Washington Post on Twitter for them implying he needs to run for another office before making a go at the White House, making sure that people know he could still be president in the future. The Republican establishment has been openly begging him to reconsider a run; his Senate colleagues have as much said so to the press, which seems like something no one would be doing if he actually was making a go at the race.  The question here is, though, is this a good idea for Rubio and the GOP? Or would it be smarter to keep Rubio off the ballot entirely in November?

For the GOP, the answer is pretty easy-polling at this point shows the assumed Democratic nominee Rep. Patrick Murphy doing worst against Rubio, and topping all of his current Republican challengers. Rubio surely, as the incumbent with the most name recognition and the ability to raise money in the costly state, would be the best candidate for the NRSC, an organization who already has their hands full with a number of incumbents running in swing states across the country.  That being said, they are also in a pickle here if Rubio doesn't run at this point, especially with senators out saying he's the best choice.  If he doesn't win, he'll end up making his Republican successors, particularly frontrunner Rep. David Jolly, look bad.  This is probably the reason that Jolly has stated that he wouldn't run if Rubio would-he wants to look like his successor, not the silver medal.

As for Rubio, I think the decision is a bit harder to tackle.  Rubio is indeed right that former nominees have won the nomination when they were not in office.  Hillary Clinton is about to do it, and Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Ronald Reagan, and Mitt Romney all became the nominee despite not holding political office at the time.  Mondale, Reagan, and Romney even won their nominations with their most recent electoral battle being a presidential defeat, just like Rubio.  The problem for Rubio is that none of these candidates had an electoral defeat between that run and when they eventually got the nomination. Rubio would head into the Florida elections in November as the favorite, but favorites have the ability to falter, and Rubio has a lot more baggage now than he did when the election started.  You can bet that the "tiny hands" comment, along with Rubio's continued attacks on the Senate and his crummy voting attendance record will surely be attack cards that Murphy will play, and it's worth noting that Florida voters, when Rubio needed them the most, rejected him in the primary and chose Donald Trump.

Trump is, however, the biggest question mark for Rubio.  Considering how closely he has sided with the nominee in recent days, Rubio won't really have room for air between the two of them.  He even is going to speak on his behalf come Cleveland.  The problem is if Trump collapses in the Sunshine State between now and the election, will that bring down Rubio?  You can bet that, should Hillary Clinton remain in the lead there (and that lead could possibly grow if Bernie Sanders supporters flock to Clinton), that Rep. Patrick Murphy will hit Rubio hard on his association with Trump.  Rubio's incumbency may gain him 1-2 points from swing voters, but if Clinton is winning by much more than that we could see Marco Rubio brought down by Donald Trump's presidency.  From there, the challenge gets considerably harder for Rubio to mount another presidential comeback.  The only person to come off of two previous losses in modern political history and still win the White House was Richard Nixon (he lost by a microscopic margin in 1960 for the White House and then went on to lose by a much more sizable margin the governorship of California in 1962), and Nixon had a more impressive resume (he had been Vice President and had dominated Republican political conversation for years) and near unrivaled political skills (which Rubio has never approached), so this isn't something that Rubio can really lean onto as comfort.

So is it a good idea for Rubio to run for reelection?  Yes, if he's sure he can win, but the tea leaves are giving him at best even odds of that happening.  That's a political gambit, and most of Rubio's career his political gambits have paid off.  However, he should know that if he runs, he needs to win.  Otherwise we won't have Marco to kick around anymore.

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