Rise and Fall

05.16.14

Forget the White House, Marco Rubio Might Be Lucky Just to Be Reelected

He still makes the presidential wannabee lists, but Rubio might be lucky in 2016 just to hold his Senate seat.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio made news on Sunday’s This Week when asked by Jonathan Karl if he considered himself ready to be president:

“I do … but I think that’s true for multiple other people that would want to run … I mean, I’ll be 43 this month, but the other thing that perhaps people don’t realize, I’ve served now in public office for the better part of 14 years,” said Rubio.

Do the math. Rubio has held public office since age 29. His Wikipedia profile states “politician” as his profession. Given that most Americans believe that “politician” is not exactly a highly respected career path, Rubio may at least want to change his Wiki profile to read “public servant.”

In fact, he may be forced into a career change. Why? Because Senator Rubio is up for a difficult reelection in November 2016, and he told Jonathan Karl that if he runs for president he would not simultaneously run for the Senate.

This could be construed as a jab at Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who is actively considering both.  But Rubio does not have a choice because Florida law prevents ambitious politicians from having their names appear twice on the ballot for different offices, as does Kentucky. And Paul has more in-state political clout and is engaged in changing the law in Kentucky, while Rubio has accepted the Sunshine State status quo.

A quick glance at the Real Clear Politics poll averages for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination indicates that Rubio would be better off focusing all his energy on his Senate reelection if he wants to keep “politician” as his current profession. The current three leaders are Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee with 13 percent each, and Jeb Bush at 12.3 percent. Rubio is stuck in the middle at 6.5 percent.

He doesn’t even fare well at home. The latest Quinnipiac survey of 2016 GOP voters has Jeb Bush winning 27 percent, Rand Paul garnering 14 percent and Rubio trailing at 11 percent. Furthermore, in a Florida 2016 general election match-up Hillary Clinton stomps Rubio by a margin of 52 to 40 percent.

A GOP official told me that a deal was struck: If Jeb runs for president, then Rubio would drop out.

So things don’t look so encouraging for Rubio. But he may not be seriously eyeing a White House run anyway: A high-ranking GOP party official who asked that his name be withheld told me on Monday that Jeb Bush’s people have just met with Rubio’s people and a 2016 deal was struck: If Jeb runs for president, then Rubio would drop out—and “Jeb is running,” according to my well-placed source.  (Alert the media!)

How far Rubio has fallen since early 2013 when, after Romney’s defeat and with the GOP leaderless, he surged in popularity. TIME Magazine featured him on the February 18, 2013 cover as “The Republican Savior.” But once he voted with Senate Democrats to pass comprehensive immigration reform, his star began its dramatic fall from “savior” heaven.

Now with Rubio’s 2016 presidential end game already pre-determined and Jeb calling the shots, look for Rubio to drop out of the presidential race as late as possible but early enough so he can still run for Senate reelection.

Rubio knows his race will be tough, since 2016 is the first time he would face a traditional two-person Senate battle. (His 2010 election was a quirky three-way race.) It has already been reported that Rubio’s most likely and strongest opponent would be Florida Congresswoman and chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Furthermore, in a presidential election year, with Clinton likely at the top of the ticket, the electorate is going to be very different from the one that gave Rubio 49 percent of the vote in 2010. His Democratic opponent, especially if it is Wasserman Schultz, could easily ride Hillary’s coattails to a Senate victory (or conversely, Rubio could ride Jeb’s). Either way, count on the 2016 Florida race to be the Mother of All Senate Battles.

In his interview with Karl, Rubio, acknowledging the early polls that show him floundering, joked: “It’s probably the ‘TIME’ cover jinx, just like the ‘Sports Illustrated’ jinx.” As a Republican who hopes that her party can win the White House in 2016, I can tell you it is not the TIME “cover jinx” that was the cause of Marco Rubio’s downward career trajectory but rather his ambition for the sake of ambition.

Voters are turned off by a raw quest for power and instead ask, “What has he done?” Thus, Republicans are looking for leaders who have earned power through leadership rather than being anointed leaders by the media.

A recent Bloomberg Businessweek piece framed Rubio’s problem well: “As the media’s infatuation moved on to Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, he began the painstaking work of trying to recast himself as a policy wonk.”

The piece concluded with this statement: “He’s become a fount of policy proposals with a plan, or at least a promise of one, for just about everything.” He’s trying too hard to make himself relevant.

But since leadership takes guts, Rubio’s real future will be determined by less talk and more action, even at the risk of going against his party like he did on immigration reform before he backed down. Since Rubio has already branded himself as a national leader many in the GOP are hoping that he actually becomes one.