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.

Marco Rubio

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.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Scott says:

    In all these announcements on the GOP side (Cruz, Paul, Rubio), I am at a total loss to penetrate the psyches of these candidates who believe that they are ready and capable of being President. The level of self-delusion is so incredible as to be disqualifying.

  2. grumpy realist says:

    @Scott: Or it’s completely for the grift.

  3. gVOR08 says:

    @Scott: Dunning-Kruger. And as Grumpy implies, only a couple of them are serious.

  4. grumpy realist says:

    Totally OT but it looks like Idris Elba won’t be playing Bond anytime soon.

    (I can understand this if the argument is “Bond is supposed to be Scottish. We don’t have black people as traditional Scots, hence Elba can’t be Bond.” I don’t understand this if it’s simply “Bond can’t be black.” Elba is a good actor and a sexy hunk. What’s not to like?)

  5. C. Clavin says:
  6. ernieyeball says:

    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.

    Yeah, well when it comes to defense spending Mighty Marco wants to “take us back to yesterday” in a big way.

    With majorities in both chambers of Congress, it is time for Republicans to begin rolling back six years of failed Obama administration policies.
    Our highest priority during the ongoing budget debate should be undoing the damage caused by defense sequestration and the hundreds of billions of dollars of defense cuts made by the Obama administration.
    http://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=59f3cf51-daf8-460e-a7f7-2740e5be060a

    I wonder if Sen. Tom Cotton Picker will be Rube’s VP or Sec. of Defense?
    http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/26/opinions/rubio-cotton-defense-cuts/index.html

  7. DrDaveT says:

    @ernieyeball:

    I wonder if Sen. Tom Cotton Picker will be Rube’s VP or Sec. of Defense?

    Secretary of State. Or perhaps Ambassador to the UN.

  8. ernieyeball says:

    @DrDaveT:..Secretary of State. Or perhaps Ambassador to the UN.

    Maybe Uncle Tom will be the new ambassador to Iran after we invade the country and set up a new government…and everything is coming up roses!

  9. Scott says:

    @ernieyeball:

    Our highest priority during the ongoing budget debate should be undoing the damage caused by defense sequestration and the hundreds of billions of dollars of defense cuts made by the Obama administration.

    Democrats need only ask one question over and over on this: “How will you pay for it?”

    Don’t let them get away with anything.

  10. Mr. Prosser says:

    As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, does anyone think Rubio may be angling for a VP slot after Bush is nominated? He probably doesn’t want his name associated with Cruz, Paul and Walker but with Bush, maybe.

  11. Tillman says:

    Rubio’s running for VP. I’m sure this was the plan all along, and that he crafted this plan well before 2010.

    Maybe I’ve just seen too much Dexter (and I’ve only seen up through half of season 3) or perhaps I’ve read too many Carl Hiaasen novels (and I’ve only read three), but something’s convinced me Rubio is an unyet-matured psychopath the likes of which the world has never seen. He is intensely scary to me, and there’s no tangible reason for it.

    I had the exact same feeling about Barack Obama in ’06, which is when I first heard about him. Odd life story, impressive-ish credentials that fall short of the glory sought, early stumbles and freshman moves, an unusual persistence that could be foolhardy in other lights — Rubio is Obama’s Sammy Davis, Jr.

    tl;dr @Mr. Prosser: Yes.

  12. ernieyeball says:

    @Scott:..Don’t let them get away with anything.

    We already know how they want to pay for it. Screw the middle class.

    As expected, almost four years after the passage of the Budget Control Act, virtually nothing has been done to address the unsustainable growth of our entitlement programs, while essential defense programs have been sacrificed.
    http://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=59f3cf51-daf8-460e-a7f7-2740e5be060a

    Words From the Past

    Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.
    The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.
    This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. … Is there no other way the world may live?

    Which Candy Ass Pansy said this?
    Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe WWII and 34th Commander in Chief USA”Ike” Eisenhower
    —Speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors “The Chance for Peace” (16 April 1953)

  13. grumpy realist says:

    Wonkette’s snark on Carly Fiorina is on the spot.

  14. James P says:

    In all these announcements ….. I am at a total loss to penetrate the psyches of these candidates who believe that they are ready and capable of being President.

    It’s true Marco has never been an Alinskyite community agitator, er I mean organizer, but that omission on his resume not withstanding, he’s still far more qualified than Barack Hussein Obama.

    Marco was the Speaker of the Florida House – Barry was a back bencher who voted present on every bill (except the Born Alive Infant Protection Act) in the Illinois Senate.

    My supposition is that you did not harbor similar reservations over Barry’s qualifications seven years ago.

    Just be honest and admit that you oppose conservatives on the basis of their ideology and support libs on a similar basis without any regard for the strengths and weaknesses of their respective resumes.

  15. aFloridian says:

    @Tillman:

    Thumbs up for the Carl Hiaasen reference. Naturally, I’ve read all of Carl Hiaasen’s novels (except his most recent, which sits on my shelf waiting for a good beach weekend, which is the only place appropriate to read Hiaasen) and I kind of know what you mean. I actually had a similar thought the other day looking at a picture of Rubio. I think my thought was, “what if HE is the antichrist?” which is, of course, a preposterous thought, mostly because there’s no such thing. Just like I used to worry about Pope Benedict because the history channel said he was going to be the last pope (St. Malachy prophecy). It’s easier to worry about hocus pocus than the real dangers of disease and violence all humans face every day I suppose.

    Superstition is a strange animal. I don’t believe in ghosts, but when my spouse, who does, tells me about the apparitions she’s seen and the noises she hears it still weirds me out – even though I’ve never experienced anything remotely otherworldly and believe there’s a rational explanation for all of it. Then again, she also told me she was told (in church? she’s the religious one) that the antichrist is supposedly a bald woman…so if Hillary has a wig and it falls off during the campaign I’ll probably get me some religion “real quick!”

    So yeah, Rubio is the same way, which I think is the feeling of not KNOWING him. That’s one thing that still bothers a lot of folks about Obama and is part of the hate (in addition to the being half-black thing). He seems unknowable. He’s been our president for 6 years and we still don’t KNOW who he really is. He’s aloof, distant, and so, so “other” to a lot of Americans, who just can’t accept that.

    Looking back Clinton felt like one of the most genuine presidents of my lifetime. And Carter. I really, really like Carter the man. Maybe overmatched by the circumstances of his presidency, but probably one of the most moral men to have ever occupied the White House. I got a chance to visit Plains recently and it’s worth it to peel off I-75 if you’re ever heading to Florida and love politics. Additionally, Richard Nixon’s quote about the Bohemian Grove makes me want to forgive his other transgressions – it really humanizes him, but I think he was another misunderstood president.

    Bush insulted all of us. He pretended to be something different than his blue-blooded father and family tree, but he really wasn’t any more a man of the people than Romney, who couldn’t even fake it. LBJ was another used car salesman.

    But yeah, Rubio is a mouthwatering VOP pick for just about any candidate, including Bush. He’s from the 3rd most populous state, he’s Hispanic, photogenic, and young. He’s got conservative principles but not enough to turn off mainstream Repubs. I think Bush needs him less than any other candidate but also could really boost his Hispanic turn-out by not only being married to a Hispanic (and claiming to be Hispanic himself from time-to-time lolz) but having an honest-to-God Cuban on his campaign (a group that, of course, has a very different experience than Mexicans and Central Americans who make up the bulk of the Hispanic population, but still).

    A Bush-Rubio ticket…as a Floridian how could I vote against that? I don’t think we’ve ever had a president from Florida, nor even the Deep South outside Carter. Maybe it’s time to try again?

    I’d vote for Gore in a heartbeat though. Not gonna happen.

  16. James P says:

    @aFloridian: Two people from the same state can not be on the same ticket. Bush-Rubio or Rubio-Bush is a Constitutional impossibility.