Little Marco is back with a vengeance.
In a stunning turn of events, former presidential candidate Marco Rubio launched a last-minute bid for his Florida senate seat on Wednesday morning. The move assures an uphill battle for his Democratic opponent in the fall, who will be facing an incumbent flush with cash and connections from his presidential campaign, and gives the Republican Party a chance to maintain its grip on the Senate this November.
Mr. Rubio had asserted for months, both during and after his national campaign, that he had no interest in remaining in the Senate. When the Washington Post speculated last month that he was reconsidering his commitment to exit the political sphere, the Florida senator let loose a flurry of tweets blasting the story. “I have only said like 10000 times I will be a private citizen in January,” he seethed. “Funny to read about unnamed ‘people close’ to me who claim to know my thinking on future plans. They just make it up.”
Some reports have suggested that Mr. Rubio’s desire to return to private life was mere political posturing, but a source intimately familiar with his decision called this claim “nonsense.” According to this source as well as Politico, the Florida senator had not considered running for re-election until a meeting early last week with Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a close friend of Mr. Rubio’s who urged him to run for a second term. Mr. Lopez-Cantera was running to replace Mr. Rubio at the time; he has since exited the race to back him.
Mr. Rubio had also been under intense pressure from Senate Republicans, who are particularly vulnerable this election cycle. According to the Cook Political Report, which ranks the competitiveness of House and Senate races across the country, six of the seven “toss-up” seats are currently held (or will be vacated) by Republicans this year. The battle for Mr. Rubio’s position was set to be especially expensive for the GOP’s national fundraising apparatus, which would have had to prop up a cash-poor, virtually unknown Republican candidate in a race which would likely have fallen to a relatively well-funded Democrat anyway.
His decision is rooted in his deep conviction about the future of our country and his belief that he can make a greater contribution serving in the U.S. Senate.
– A source close to Mr. Rubio
With Mr. Rubio, a national political figure with substantial fundraising prowess, now in the running, the Republican National Committee may shift its funds to protect other vulnerable senators across the country. Meanwhile, the Democrats will need to pour millions of dollars into the Florida race to stay competitive, neglecting other races in the process.
“It is hard to overstate how important this development is for every Republican-held seat, given that this could take the most expensive state to defend entirely off the map,” a consultant close to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell explained to the Washington Post.
But there is more than the U.S. Senate at stake. Mr. Rubio’s reversal is an important opportunity for the Republican Party to find its ideological moorings in the age of Trump. Many party leaders, unwilling to risk their powerful positions or a fusillade from Mr. Trump himself, have refrained from criticizing their party’s nominee even as his rhetoric grows more and more toxic. Others, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, have excoriated Mr. Trump for his most offensive comments, yet have faced sharp internal criticism for using their highly visible leadership positions to bludgeon the GOP’s presumptive nominee.
But the importance of Florida to Mr. Trump, who will need to tap into the state’s sizable Hispanic community in order to have a fighting chance in November, provides Mr. Rubio with a powerful platform from which to present an alternative conservative vision, one which in many ways conflicts directly with that of the GOP nominee. In the press release announcing his candidacy, Mr. Rubio framed his re-election bid exactly this way:
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.
– Senator Marco Rubio
Campaign Press Release
As a likable and aspirational conservative, Marco Rubio appeals to the segments of the national electorate with which Mr. Trump struggles most. Many staunch conservatives, frustrated with their nominee’s equivocal stances on issues which matter to them, will only expend the effort to cast a ballot for him if there is a candidate down-ticket—like Mr. Rubio—for whom they feel moved to vote. Similarly, Hispanic Republicans, many of whom are uneasy about Mr. Trump, will show up for Mr. Rubio in Florida on Election Day in spite of their qualms with the man at the top of the ticket. Some of this turnout will redound to Mr. Trump, potentially altering the outcome in a close race between him and Hillary Clinton.
In the meantime, Mr. Rubio will have a chance to build the positive conservative vision on which he based his national candidacy into a powerful counterforce to Donald Trump, should the businessman take office in 2017. But the Florida senator’s most important contribution may come if Mr. Trump loses in November. If the GOP maintains control of the Senate, Hillary Clinton’s ability to shape the composition of the Supreme Court and to implement her preferred policies will be curtailed.
But Mr. Rubio’s choice is fraught with risk. Should he lose his re-election bid, it is possible that his political career would be over.
But some are unconcerned. Speaking with reporters in the aftermath of Mr. Rubio’s decision, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could hardly contain his enthusiasm. “It has a huge impact on our ability to hold the majority so it’s a big development,” he explained. “I think it moves Florida from a likely loss to an almost certain pickup.”