As we recently discussed, when Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) launched his ill-fated presidential campaign, he made a bold and meaningful promise to the public: White House or bust. Rubio wouldn’t treat a Senate seat as a consolation prize; he’d either win the 2016 presidential election or he’d be out of public office altogether. It was probably the most honorable moment of his career.
After his national campaign failed miserably, Rubio heard the speculation about him possibly breaking his word, and he dismissed the chatter as an irritating distraction. Just five weeks ago, the senator, annoyed by Beltway scuttlebutt, said on Twitter, “I have only said like 10,000 times I will be a private citizen in January.”
But the political pressure started soon after. Republican officials, facing the prospect of a Democratic Senate, began urging Rubio to break his word. According to the Washington Post, he’s going to do exactly that.
Sen. Marco Rubio will announce Wednesday he will seek re-election to the Senate, reversing a pledge he made a year ago to either assume the presidency or return to private life in Florida, instantly transforming an already competitive race and improving the chances that Republicans can maintain the Senate majority.Rubio is set to announce the decision sometime Wednesday, according to three people familiar with the decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss it before a formal announcement. One person said Rubio has started privately informing key Republicans he will run.
This reversal will surprise no one; the far-right senator has been telegraphing the move for weeks. It was largely a matter of when, not if, Rubio would go back on his promise to the public.
But that doesn’t make the reversal any less ridiculous.
Part of this story seems to be widely misunderstood by pundits. As Rubio started sending signals about doing what he vowed not to do, much of the chatter focused on the Floridian’s record of missing votes, blowing off committee hearings, and generally refusing to take his professional responsibilities seriously.
And while all of that was true, it’s also an incomplete look at the picture. The problem wasn’t just Rubio’s reluctance to do his job; it was also his argument, made repeatedly on the presidential campaign trail, that his job didn’t matter. Rubio argued over and over again that Senate work is dumb and pointless, and it just didn’t matter if he showed up for work or not. The Washington Post recently published a good piece on this:
The 45-year-old has heretofore made no secret of his distaste for the world’s greatest deliberative body. His friends have said he “hates” the job. Rubio himself was unapologetic about missing more votes than any other senator during his failed presidential campaign, often complaining about how “frustrating” it is to serve as a member of Congress. […]When Donald Trump attacked him for missing votes at a debate in California last September, Rubio replied: “I am leaving the Senate, I’m not running for reelection, and I’m running for president because I know this: unless we have the right president, we cannot make America fulfill its potential…. If we keep electing the same people, nothing is going to change. … And you’re right, I have missed some votes, and I’ll tell you why, Mr. Trump. Because in my years in the Senate, I’ve figured out very quickly that the political establishment in Washington, D.C., in both political parties is completely out of touch with the lives of our people.”He said in various other interviews that the missed votes were “not a big deal” and that many were “inconsequential.”
Stephen Colbert recently joked on his show, “To Rubio, the Senate is a useless hunk of bureaucratic sewage and … he might be running for re-election.”
So, what happens now? Revisiting our previous coverage, here are some angles to keep an eye on:
* Will Rubio clear the Republican primary field? Probably not. Land developer Carlos Beruff, who’s already spend $4 million of his own money on the Senate race, said this week he intends to stick around through the Aug. 30 primary, and spend millions more if necessary. Beruff also said he intends to push Rubio on whether he’ll commit to serving a full Senate term if re-elected.
* Will Rubio commit to serving a full Senate term if re-elected? I doubt it. The far-right Republican obviously intends to run for president again in 2020 (if Donald Trump loses), which would mean serving only part of the six-year term he doesn’t actually care about anyway. Of course, Rubio could promise to serve the full term, but as we’re discovering, he’s more than comfortable breaking his word, so it wouldn’t much matter.
* Will Rubio win? In March, in a presidential primary he vowed to win, Rubio lost his home state by 20 points. In fact, Florida has 67 counties, and Rubio lost 66 of them, suggesting he’s not overwhelmingly popular in his home state. That said, recent polls suggest he’ll be competitive, and possibly a slight favorite, in November.
* Has Rubio earned a second term? The senator has earned a reputation as a politician who doesn’t work hard, doesn’t show up as often as he’s supposed to, and finds the day-to-day grind on Capitol Hill to be boring and unsatisfying. He may see a second term as good for his long-term ambitions – the career politician is nothing if not a brazen opportunist – but even Rubio would be hard pressed to look back on his first term as a success worthy of re-election.
* What happens if he loses? Rubio’s plan was to leave Capitol Hill at the end of the year, lick his wounds, and eventually launch a comeback, basically following the Reagan model after 1976. If Rubio runs for re-election and loses, however, his career may very well be over.
* How will Rubio justify the broken promise? As of last week, the senator suggested the mass-shooting in Orlando forced a change in his perspective. “I’ve been deeply impacted by it,” he told reporters.
But it’s a tough sell. Are we to believe Rubio somehow forgot about these kinds of violent threats when he vowed not to run, but then received a brutal reminder? For that matter, Rubio’s policy platform – which included ending marriage equality and blocking any new gun-safety restrictions – isn’t exactly the ideal fit for responding to the attack in Orlando.
At an event last month, Rubio told a Florida audience, “Don’t just run because there’s an open position and you can win. Because if you run for something because it’s open and you can win you’re going to regret that decision. You’re going to get there you’re going to be bored. You’re going to be antsy. You’re not going to like it.”
Oddly enough, Rubio is not only breaking his word, he’s ignoring his own advice.