Before he was a national figure, before he anchored an effort to pass immigration reform, before he began his run for president or Senate: Marco Rubio was a staunch supporter of Mike Huckabee.
The two politicians are rivals now, but in the 2008 presidential election, a little-known Florida House speaker named Rubio was Huckabee’s biggest cheerleader in Florida.
And the former Arkansas governor hasn’t forgotten about it: Huckabee joked at least twice Tuesday that Rubio should reprise the role of his Florida co-chair: once on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and a second time at an economic summit hosted by Governor Rick Scott in Orlando.
“Marco should be repeating that work again,” said Huckabee emphatically. “But I couldn’t get him to believe that that was his best role.”
But in January 2008, Huckabee was singing a different tune: “It’s a nice honor to be introduced by the future governor of Florida, Marco Rubio,” he said at the time. “I’m going to keep the seat warm in the White House because I can see him sitting there some day.”
Nearly eight years later, Rubio’s endorsement of Huckabee looks especially strange:
While Rubio launched his 2016 campaign with an appeal with lofty talk about a new American century, he once endorsed a man who questions evolution.
Then there’s the immigration issue.
Rubio is known for his efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill, but he once endorsed a man who called for deporting undocumented immigrants, building a fence along the Mexican border, and fining those who hire employees without work authorization.
Their approach to politicking couldn’t be more different as well.
While Rubio doesn’t often find himself making outlandish statements, Huckabee found himself in hot water (again) after saying this week he wished he could have been transgender in high school so he could have showered with girls.
Maybe it was a marriage of convenience?
It was clear why Huckabee needed Rubio in 2007: The former Arkansas governor had objected to the Cuban embargo on the basis that it hurt rice farmers in his state. As a national politician trying to contest Florida, Huckabee needed a Cuban American to act as a human shield for criticism of his flip-flop.
Far less clear, however, is what Rubio got out of the deal. Top-tier Republican candidates had courted him, but Rubio had rebuffed them. Even then, it was puzzling.
“What’s a nice Cuban-American boy like Rubio doing hanging out with these characters?” wrote Ana Menendez, a columnist for The Miami Herald, after the 2007 endorsement. “What’s [Huckabee’s] appeal to the traditional Cuban-American voter? Until recently, Huckabee didn’t think the embargo was a good idea: It hurt Arkansas’ rice farmers.”
At the time, Rubio said he was convinced on the basis of Huckabee’s sincerity and staunch stance on abortion.
“I want the Republican Party to be the party of life and family, and Mike Huckabee is the best candidate on those issues,” Rubio said during the endorsement on Dec. 11, 2007, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
But one former Rubio aide explained the endorsement as a political calculation on the part of the then-Florida House speaker. At the time, Rubio was on his way out of the speakership, and he was looking to have a greater presence on the national scene. He would get more of a return with Huckabee, more so than with Fred Thompson or Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney or John McCain.
“That was an endorsement really where they had nothing to lose, especially Marco,” the aide told The Daily Beast. “It was more of an introductory move to get his foot in the door. Back then Marco was really pitching his conservative values, and it mirrored where Huckabee was… It just elevated him a little bit, elevated himself on the national scene. If Huckabee had legs, [Rubio] would have had a pretty big presence.”
Perhaps Rubio also saw a version of himself in Huckabee, who also grew up in poverty. Rubio praised Huckabee in January 2008 as “a guy who is one generation removed from dirt floors and outdoor plumbing.”
The Florida senator himself is the son of a bartender and a maid, a point he highlighted during his campaign launch in April.
Mike Haridopolos, who was serving in the Florida legislature in 2007 as the Senate majority whip, said Rubio also admired Huckabee’s ability to relate to a crowd.
“What attracted us both was [Huckabee’s] ability to communicate,” said Haridopolos, who will be supporting Huckabee again in the coming election cycle. “The positive nature of Huckabee’s campaign, for building people up rather than tearing people down—those were the discussions Marco and I had.”
Huckabee eventually came in fourth during the Florida GOP primary, but not before he did a little obligatory pandering in state: at Versailles restaurant, a staple for local politics in Miami, the former governor who once opposed the Cuban embargo tied the “murder” of abortion to Castro’s dictatorship.
Later, Huckabee would endorse Rubio for Senate in the 2010 election. But, like half of marriages, this one didn’t last.
The Huckabee and Rubio campaigns declined to comment for this story.