Rubio's Risk: Why He Changed His Mind and is Running for Re-Election

Guy Benson
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Posted: Jun 22, 2016 2:01 PM
Rubio's Risk: Why He Changed His Mind and is Running for Re-Election

We'll get into some analysis of Rubio's big reversal in a moment, but I'll let the man explain himself first.  Here he is with Fox News' Chris Wallace, via the Free Beacon:

Rubio's campaign also released a fairly lengthy statement expounding on the announcement.  After acknowledging the major shift, predicting that opponents will attack him for it, and reiterating his well-known frustrations over serving in the Senate, the Florida freshman laid out the reasons he's chosen to seeks a second term after all:

Control of the Senate may very well come down to the race in Florida. That means the future of the Supreme Court will be determined by the Florida Senate seat. It means the future of the disastrous Iran nuclear deal will be determined by the Florida Senate seat. It means the direction of our country’s fiscal and economic policies will be determined by this Senate seat...No matter who is elected president, there is reason for worry. With Hillary Clinton, we would have four more years of the same failed economic policies that have left us with a stagnant economy. We would have four more years of the same failed foreign policy that has allowed radical Islam to spread, and terrorists to be released from Guantanamo. And even worse, if Clinton were president and her party took control of Congress, she would govern without Congressional oversight or limit. It would be a repeat of the early years of the current administration, when we got Obamacare, the failed stimulus and a record debt. The prospect of a Trump presidency is also worrisome to me. It is no secret that I have significant disagreements with Donald Trump. His positions on many key issues are still unknown. And some of his statements, especially about women and minorities, I find not just offensive but unacceptable. If he is elected, we will need Senators willing to encourage him in the right direction, and if necessary, stand up to him. I’ve proven a willingness to do both.

No matter who wins the White House, we need a strong group of principled, persuasive leaders in Congress who will not only advance limited government, free enterprise and a strong national defense, but also explain to Americans how it makes life better for them and their families. I ultimately changed my mind about this race because on that front, and in that fight, I believe I have something to offer. In the end, this was a decision made not in Washington, but back home in West Miami over Father’s Day weekend, with my wife and our four children. There were two paths before us. There was one path that was more personally comfortable and probably smarter politically. But after much thought and prayer, together we chose to continue with public service; to continue down the path that provides the opportunity to make a positive difference at this critical and uncertain time for our nation.

Let's examine the claims that (a) control of the Senate could boil down to Florida, and (b) Rubio's savvier play would have been to sit this one out.  On the first count, it is entirely possible that Republicans' upper chamber majority could hinge on the Florida contest, in which Democrats had a strong shot at winning the open seat.  The 2016 Senate map is a challenging one for Republicans, who are defending far more competitive seats than Democrats.  Recent polling in the state has shown that Rubio is much better positioned to retain the seat as an incumbent than anyone else in the GOP field -- several of whom have already gotten the memo and stepped aside.  A new Quinnipiac poll has Rubio leading both potential Democratic challengers by high single-digits (the same data set shows Pat Toomey ahead somewhat comfortably in Pennsylvania, and Rob Portman tied in Ohio).  The former presidential candidate is suggesting that he didn't consult public opinion surveys too heavily while weighing this decision. Of course he did.  While Rubio's call may have been finalized "back home in West Miami," it bloomed inside the Beltway.  I've spoken to several top Senate sources in recent weeks, all of whom confirmed that an extremely reluctant Rubio was subjected to an intense and sustained pressure campaign to reconsider his choice not to seek a second term.  Even a prominent erstwhile adversary was enlisted in the effort; I'm told this late May tweet didn't appear organically or by accident:

What about Rubio's piece of punditry that sticking with his original decision would have been more comfortable, and "probably smarter" from a political perspective? There's little doubt that Rubio could have landed a lucrative position in the private sector after his term expired, and it stands to reason that a well-paying "normal" job probably looks quite attractive to someone who's just spent the better part of a year competing in a grueling presidential cycle -- and who's famously fed up with the Senate, to boot.  It's also true that Rubio's move holds obvious political risks.  The Q-poll mentioned above measured an eight-point advantage for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in the Sunshine State, meaning that Rubio is running ahead of the man who will be at the top of the ticket by double-digits.  Let's say that finding is roughly realistic.  Is it sustainable?  If Trump gets defeated soundly in Florida (a distinct possibility, but not a sure bet) Rubio will need a lot of ticket-splitters to save his seat. Democrats, meanwhile, have said they'll pull out all the stops to beat Rubio, whose political career they're eager to kill. If the Trump undertow does sink Rubio, his political future will be severely crippled, if not dead.  He'll have sustained an embarrassing presidential primary blowout defeat in his home state, flip-flopped into running for Senate again, then lost that race, too.  He'll have been rejected by Florida's Republican voters and overall electorate in consecutive races.  I'm not sure even a guy as talented Marco Rubio could overcome that one-two punch.  

Conversely, if Rubio prevails, his star will regain its glimmer, and he'll once again secure a prominent perch within the "future of the party's" upper echelon. Let's be candid: If Rubio wants to run for president again -- which I gather he does -- that would be a much stronger position to occupy than, for example, trying to mount another bid as a one-term ex-Senator who finished third in a failed White House bid, before promptly leaving public life.  In other words, it's not a stretch to argue that if Rubio's loftier ambitions remain intact, today's announcement isn't exactly a pure gesture of selfless party loyalty and commitment to public service.  Either way, Rubio has no time to lose, and is jumping in swinging:

In discussing Grayson, Rubio singled out a House ethics investigation into a hedge fund he ran and suggested the Orlando congressman was corrupt. “Alan Grayson, if he were elected, the chances are he would probably be indicted in his first couple years in office,” Rubio said. “He has huge ethical issues.” As for Murphy, Rubio dismissed him as a spoiled rich kid. “Patrick Murphy is someone who is not prepared to be U.S. senator considering the magnitude of what we’re facing now,” Rubio said. “He has no significant achievements in his entire life. He has been handed everything, from the moment he was born: his first job, his second job. And now his family and his father want to buy him a Senate seat.

I'll leave you with two video clips pertaining to Rubio's would-be opponents (including a fun Townhall  throwback), followed by an endorsement from an erstwhile rival who is happy to help his friend -- but not too happy -- and who also seems to have his eye on 2020 and beyond: