Marco Rubio Enters The Race For President
Marco Rubio is the first Republican in the race who actually has a plausible chance to win the nomination, but it's not going to be easy.
While the kickoff won’t come until this evening at an event at Miami’s Freedom Tower, Florida Senator Marco Rubio has officially entered the race for the Republican nomination for President, setting the table for a possible future battle between two of Florida’s most prominent Republican politicians who both have their eyes on the same office:
MIAMI — Senator Marco Rubio of Florida told his top donors Monday that he is running for president in 2016, becoming the third Republican to officially enter the contest.
Mr. Rubio will make a formal announcement Monday evening here in which he is expected to present himself as the embodiment of generational change who can unite the Republican Party’s factions and offer economic solutions for the 21st century.
At 43, the youngest candidate in the rapidly growing 2016 presidential field, Mr. Rubio is expected to cast himself as a forward-looking, next-generation leader — and an implicit contrast with both Jeb Bush, 62, whose family has dominated Republican politics for nearly three decades, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, 67, the wife of a former president and the likely Democratic nominee.
At a breakfast for bundlers of donations to his campaign on Monday at the Marriott Biscayne Bay, Mr. Rubio said that people were eager to look to the future, and described “one candidate in the race who’s from yesterday and who wants to take us back to yesterday,” one attendee said afterward.
Another donor said Mr. Rubio pointed to the venue for his announcement Monday night — Miami’s Freedom Tower, which served as a processing center for thousands of Cuban refugees fleeing the government of Fidel Castro — as a sign of America’s greatness, because in just a generation one of their children could run for president.
Mr. Rubio joins his Senate colleagues Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, who both have announced their candidacies. Other Republican hopefuls, including Mr. Bush and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, are also preparing to officially enter the race.
Mr. Rubio is expected to campaign on themes that emphasize American greatness and the American dream, an optimistic, aspirational message that he outlined in his newly released book, “American Dreams.”
He is also angling to become the youthful face of a party that skews older and has struggled to attract young voters, blacks and Hispanics. Many mainstream Republicans hope that a Cuban-American who speaks fluent Spanish can help draw Hispanic voters, a growing demographic that will be critical during the general election, into the party.
Mr. Rubio served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2000 to 2008, eventually becoming speaker. He was elected to the Senate in 2010 and has said he would not run for re-election if he ran for president.
Among the Republican Party’s announced and expected candidates, Mr. Rubio occupies a middle ground, which is both an asset and an obstacle. He hopes to appeal to more moderate Republicans as well as to social, fiscal and foreign policy voters, but he could also find himself without a clear constituency, especially in the first four nominating states.
Mr. Rubio has credibility with the conservative grass roots after defeating both a Democrat and Charlie Crist, a moderate former Republican governor, in his Senate race, but he offers a less hard-line message than Republicans like Mr. Cruz and Mr. Walker.
As a member of the Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees, Mr. Rubio has used his time in the Senate to position himself as a hawk, a stark contrast with Mr. Paul, who prefers a more restrained approach to military intervention. After his announcement here, Mr. Rubio plans to fly back to Washington to attend a Foreign Relations committee meeting on legislation that would require Congress to weigh in on any nuclear deal President Obama reaches with Iran.
But his work on immigration — one of his biggest achievements in the Senate — illustrates the delicate balance Mr. Rubio will have to strike to make it through his party’s nominating process. In 2013, Mr. Rubio was part of a bipartisan group of senators that drafted a broad immigration bill that included a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants already in the country.
He has since distanced himself from the proposal, saying he believes any immigration overhaul must start with securing the nation’s southern border and proceed step by step. But his original legislation enraged the right, which saw it as “amnesty,” while many liberals and immigration groups felt he had not gone far enough and were frustrated with his current position.
As with the previous Presidential announcements we’ve seen to date, there was nothing entirely surprising about this announcement. Rubio has been telegraphing for months now that he was considering entering the race, and two weeks ago we learned that today’s events in Miami were already being planned. As I noted at that time, though, Rubio’s star has dimmed significantly from where it was in the immediate aftermath of the 2010 elections. He’s no longer the darling of the Tea Party that he once was, for example, and that position has been largely taken over by the likes of Ted Cruz and, to some extent, Rand Paul. Additionally, Rubio’s support for immigration reform in 2013 is something that continues to hurt him among the base of the Republican Party notwithstanding the fact that he has attempted to disassociate himself from those positions for the past two years. While he has attempted to repair the damage done because of his stance on immigration reform by becoming one of the Senate GOP’s more prominent speaker’s on defense and foreign policy issues, the push back he got over immigration has seemingly caused him to stake out even harder right positions in that area than he might have been inclined to in the past. Most recently, this has perhaps been best exemplified by his reaction to the Obama Administration’s openings to Cuba that began in December. Unlike fellow Republicans such as Rand Paul and Arizona’s Jeff Flake, Rubio has been one of the loudest critics of the Administration on that issue and, indeed, at times seems to be arguing for even harsher sanctions against Cuba at a time when it seems nearly impossible to justify the ones that exist today. While some of that is no doubt attributable to Rubio’s roots in the Cuban-American community of Florida, when it’s combined with the other hard-right positions he has taken on foreign policy, one has to wonder if he isn’t consciously overcompensating for the blow back he received over immigration.
Nate Cohn notes the disparity between Rubio’s seemingly golden resume and his low-level of support inside the GOP, and notes that he will be competing most directly with the man who was his political mentor:
Mr. Rubio’s struggle to break through is a powerful reminder that winning a presidential primary is not just about skill as a politician. It’s about positioning, and Mr. Rubio, at the moment, is in a much worse position than many assessments of his political talent would suggest. In basketball terms, he’s boxed out.
His central problem is that Jeb Bush has found considerable support from the party’s mainstream conservative and moderate donors in the so-called invisible primary — the behind-the-scenes competition for elite support that often decides the nomination.
Mr. Rubio is competing for many of the same donors and operatives as Mr. Bush. Both not only come from the same state but also from similar ideological wings of the party. Despite the initial insurgent bid against Charlie Crist that made him a Tea Party hero, Mr. Rubio has always been an establishment-oriented candidate. The reporting about Mr. Rubio’s time in Washington suggests that he has followed an elite-driven path, following all the rules, seeking the guidance of the conservative intelligentsia, and trying to lead the party toward a compromise on immigration reform — the preferred means of the establishment-business wing of the party to expand the party’s general election appeal.
Mr. Bush’s pre-emptive bid to build elite support has denied Mr. Rubio the opportunity to consolidate the center-right wing of the party. Perhaps this wouldn’t be a big problem if Mr. Rubio were a favorite of the conservatives skeptical of Mr. Bush’s candidacy, but the field is full of candidates who are equally good or better fits for many conservative voters.
Of everything about Rubio’s candidacy, the fact that he has decided to run at the same time that Bush is running, and that Bush has decided to do the same thing, is perhaps the most surprising. As I noted, Bush has served as very much of a political mentor to Rubio throughout his time in Florida politics, and the two men have often worked together on issues both inside the state and nationally, such as their common message on immigration reform and on the need for the GOP to reach out to Latino voters if it was going to succeed nationally in the future. For some time, the conventional wisdom had been that neither Bush nor Rubio would run for the Presidency in 2016 if the other one was running and that, most likely, it would be the younger Rubio who would defer to Bush if he chose to run. Obviously, that was never a formal agreement between the two to that effect, but Rubio’s decision to enter the race even while Bush is preparing to launch his own campaign sets up an interesting dynamic, and a dilemma for many top Florida Republicans who have been Bush people long before they were Rubio people. Assuming both candidates last that long, how that dynamic plays out in the crucial Florida Primary could have a huge impact on the race for the nomination. If, for example, Bush and Rubio end up dividing the Florida GOP establishment vote, that could give room for another candidate to eke out a narrow victory or at least perform well enough to be considered a contender going forward. The other, more likely, scenario, of course, is that either Rubio or Bush will end up imploding well before Florida in which case the other candidate will largely have the state and its vast Republican network to themselves. Right now, it seems as though the candidate most likely to win that battle would be Jeb Bush given the fact that Rubio has no real natural constituency of his own and is instead, as Paul Waldman puts it, everyone’s second choice.
Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight is a bit more optimistic about Rubio’s chances and notes that, at the very least, he’s the first Republican candidate to enter the race that actually has a plausible chance at winning the nomination:
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s campaign, which officially kicks off Monday, has so far attracted paltry support from Republican voters, according to polls inIowa and New Hampshire, as well as nationally. He’s down near Chris Christie! Yet, when we talk about him in the FiveThirtyEight office, we usually put Rubio in the top tier, in front of everyone except Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, the two candidates at the top of the polls.
Why? Rubio is both electable and conservative, and in optimal proportions. He’s in a position to satisfy the GOP establishment, tea party-aligned voters and social conservatives. In fact, Rubio’s argument for the GOP nomination looks a lot like Walker’s, and Rubio is more of a direct threat to the Wisconsin governor than he is to fellow Floridian Bush.
To win a presidential nomination, you need to make it past the party actors (i.e., elected officials and highly dedicated partisans). You can have all the strong early poll numbers in the world (hello, Rudy Giuliani), and your candidacy can still fail if party bigwigs come out against you. Rubio has a real chance of surviving — or even winning — the invisible (or endorsement) primary.
Rubio doesn’t have the flaws the other two official GOP candidates have. He’s a hawk on foreign policy (with an 89 percent conservative foreign policy score in National Journal’s vote ratings), so he’ll be able to avoid the pitfalls of Rand Paul’s candidacy. And Rubio isn’t anywhere near as extremeas Ted Cruz and has not alienated his fellow senators, so we shouldn’t expect mainstream party members coming out of the woodwork to stop Rubio.
If there is any hope for Rubio going forward, it lies in the factors that Enten cites here as well in other aspects of Rubio’s story that make him different from the other candidates in the race. In the end, whoever wins the Republican nomination in 2016 is going to have to find a way to bridge the divide between the GOP’s business/establishment wing and its more conservative wing, which itself is divided among social conservatives, libertarians, Tea Party members, and others. As Mitt Romney showed us in 2012, and to some extent John McCain in 2008, it’s not necessary for the eventual nominee to be the first choice of the conservative wing of the party, but he at least has to appeal to them to some extent. Of the announced and potential candidates in the Republican race, it seems right now as though there are only three candidates that have the potential to be able to do this; Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio. At some point, one of them is going to rise to the top, and if Rubio can figure out how to be that person then he might actually have a chance. It’s not going to be easy, though.