Marco Rubio’s Jeb Problem
Would a presidential run by his mentor lock Rubio out of the race?

Marco Rubio (left) and Jeb Bush


Eliana Johnson

A decision by Jeb Bush to jump into the 2016 race would presumably make him, in an instant, the establishment front-runner. It could also have an enormous impact on his fellow Floridian Marco Rubio, whose political career Bush has nurtured from its inception.

A Bush run would create both personal and political obstacles for Rubio. It would either force him to defer a 2016 run entirely or put him in the uncomfortable position of campaigning against a longtime friend and political mentor.

Several Republican political analysts say they have difficulty imagining that Rubio will launch a presidential bid if Bush decides to enter the race. That’s something that, according to a recent Washington Post report, many of Mitt Romney’s major donors are urging Bush to do. If Bush gets in the race, “then I think Rubio does not,” a top Republican strategist tells me. A Bush run, says another, “would complicate things for Rubio pretty severely.” Ana Navarro, a GOP strategist and a friend of Bush’s and Rubio’s, is more direct: “I cannot see Jeb and Marco running against each other.”

Some say that, if Bush decides to run, the Republican establishment will put pressure on Rubio to wait his turn. “This is the one window of opportunity for Governor Bush, and Senator Rubio will have many windows of opportunity in the future,” says American Conservative Union (ACU) president Al Cardenas, who served two terms as chairman of the Florida GOP when Bush was governor and Rubio was a state representative.

Others, though, including some who know them both, say the men will make their decisions independently. “I don’t think Jeb’s decision is going to hinge on who else is running,” Navarro says. “I suspect the same is true for Marco. The decision has to come from within them.”

Dual runs would undoubtedly complicate the Florida primary, should both enter the race and make it to that point. Bush and Rubio would compete for many of the same supporters, including Republicans who favor the sort of comprehensive immigration reform that Rubio championed in the Senate last year — Bush laid out a similar plan, though it does not include a path to citizenship, in his 2013 book Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution. One Republican strategist says that having Bush and Rubio in the race would touch off a “sub-primary” in Florida, which Bush would “clearly win.” “The momentum would clearly be with Jeb,” he says.

Rubio and Bush, however, are vastly different politicians, the former a 42-year-old Cuban American, the latter a 61-year-old son and brother of former presidents. Because of these differences, many say that Bush and Rubio runs are not mutually exclusive. For one, though they share many of the same donors and supporters, their bases do differ. Rubio mounted an insurgent candidacy for the Senate in 2010 that eventually forced the establishment Republican candidate, former Florida governor Charlie Crist, to leave the GOP and continue the race as an independent. Rubio continues to draw support from groups that routinely flout the party establishment, including the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth. Bush, if he chooses to tap it, has an older and more traditional base, a network and a brand that extend to every city and town across the country and that have already clinched three presidential elections.