Rubio appears to be eager for political self-immolation. He continues to prepare for a 2016 presidential campaign:

Mr. Rubio’s team is furiously fighting the impression that a Bush candidacy eclipses a Rubio bid, pointing out that he has been an underdog before. In his 2010 Senate campaign, Mr. Rubio found himself pitted against the establishment — and its money — in his seemingly long-shot bid against the Florida governor, Charlie Crist.

The comparison is interesting, but not in the way Rubio and his advisers think. It’s true that Rubio was a long-shot primary challenger against Crist, and he did later go on to win the Senate nomination despite NRSC and other party support for Crist. Rubio did that by tapping into conservative distrust of party leaders, Washington, and the Obama administration, and in Crist he had the perfect foil of a pure opportunist who had publicly embraced Obama. Crist was self-seeking unprincipled (as his subsequent political and ideological contortions confirmed), and Rubio could present himself as a spokesman for the conservative opposition to whatever ailed both parties. Movement conservatives rallied to him, and his primary challenge became something of a cause celebre on the right. Rubio also had the good luck to be running in a year that rewarded insurgent challengers, and he was further helped to his general election victory by Crist’s continued ego trip run as an independent in an historically good year for Republican candidates.

In other words, everything that could have gone right for Rubio in 2010 did. So far, almost everything that could have gone wrong for a Rubio presidential campaign has gone wrong. First, Rubio has a lot more competition, and most of that competition is much more credible and harder to caricature than Crist ever was. Meanwhile, Rubio’s own credibility with his original core of supporters has suffered because of the immigration debacle. Instead of being the insurgent that he claimed to be in 2010, Rubio embraced the conventional wisdom in D.C. about what the GOP had to do on immigration, and he aligned himself with the party’s donors and elites against most of its supporters. On top of that, instead of sticking to his guns on that issue when he faced a backlash he immediately backtracked and went into damage-control mode for the next year or two. The critic of the opportunist Crist had become a bit too opportunistic himself. The opponent of accommodating Obama had signed off on one of the major pieces of Obama’s domestic agenda. Instead of happening to be in the right place at the right time as he was in 2010, there is not really any reason for Rubio to seek the presidential nomination this time around. Insofar as he can be considered the candidate of the “reform” conservatives, that makes him the representative of a faction that doesn’t have much of a voting constituency. Jeb Bush’s candidacy makes things that much more difficult by depriving him of donors and a substantial base of support in Florida, but a Rubio candidacy would have been a long shot even if Bush had stayed on the sidelines.

The funny thing is that Rubio now seems set on pursuing a nomination he can’t get at the expense of giving up the Senate seat he won in the race against Crist. In a vain attempt to repeat his success as a primary challenger, Rubio will be leaving the position that he won as a result of that challenge. That also happens to make it that much easier for the Democrats to win what would then be an open seat, and that makes their chances of retaking the Senate a little better than they would be otherwise. Perhaps the decision to run for president is a tacit admission that Rubio’s ability to win re-election was in doubt, and like Romney Rubio has decided that it is better to pursue a losing bid for president than to be repudiated by one’s own voters.

Advertisement