Of the three Tea Party favorites angling for the White House, Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) has the most to lose — on paper. Unlike Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.), Rubio will most likely give up his seat to run for president.
“If someone decides to run for an office of that importance, you do so because that’s what you want to be, and you’re not simply trying to find some sort of eject button that allows you to get out if it isn’t going well and keep yourself in politics,” the Florida Republican told reporters last May.
For Rubio, though, a White House bid is the eject button. “He’s frustrated with the fact that the Senate doesn’t do anything,” auto billionaire Norman Braman, who will provide major financial support to a super PAC supporting Rubio, tells National Review. “They don’t get anything done.”
Rubio’s frustration with the Senate, long an open secret among his colleagues, has personal and political aspects. The freshman lawmaker “feel[s] guilty” about the amount of time he spends away from his young family in Miami, as he wrote in his memoir. The job doesn’t pay particularly well relative to what Rubio could make in the private sector. Democrats have thwarted most of his major legislative efforts, and his one big attempt to reach across the aisle, the Gang of Eight immigration bill, cost him support among the same tea-party voters who had swept him into office.
When combined, all of these nagging issues make the decision to leave the Senate behind and hit the campaign trail an easier one for Rubio. And while no one in Rubio’s camp is focused on it right now, an attractive plan B exists should he fail to win the White House: “If he loses, he’ll run for governor” in 2018, a Florida Republican operative predicts.
While Rubio’s distaste for the Senate is clear, his tenure there hasn’t been all bad. His appointments to the Foreign Relations Committee and the Intelligence Committee have allowed him to call attention to foreign policy issues of importance to him, such as the U.S.’s relationships with Cuba and Venezuela.
Those committee posts have allowed him to achieve a fluency on foreign-policy matters that boosts his presidential prospects. Just two weeks ago, he impressed a group of national-security hawks at a meeting hosted by Republican megadonor Paul Singer. “The attendees, a pretty sophisticated group, were impressed by his ability to speak about a range of issues in detail and also with empathy,” a GOP operative who attended the meeting told BuzzFeed.
Rubio’s decision to run for president, despite the political damage sustained when he championed an immigration bill that conservative activists hated, does not surprise Senate colleagues. “Rubio and Cruz are very different, by disposition, but in some ways share that quality of impatience or restlessness that might make the Senate seem like an imperfect fit,” says a senior GOP Senate aide, adding that Rubio “wears that impatience lightly.”
Former Governor Jeb Bush (R., Fla.) might disagree. Rubio’s impending candidacy puts the former allies — as speaker of the state House, Rubio was a key lieutenant to the then-governor — on a collision course that is dividing Florida Republican politics.
#related#That’s not Rubio’s fault, according to Braman. “Governor Bush didn’t come to the decision of a presidential run until relatively recently and Senator Rubio has been — this has been on his mind and a priority for a long time,” he says.
The loss of a mentor in Bush is just one of the political difficulties Rubio faces that the other tea-party senators don’t. Cruz and Paul opposed the immigration bill that Rubio helped write, which makes it harder to regain the support of conservatives he alienated during that legislative debate.
Harder does not mean impossible, though. “Those that identify as tea-party Republicans, the polling data I’m looking at, they’re still very much up in the air about who they’re going to support for president,” one GOP operative told NR. “They’re very interested in Marco Rubio, especially if he can sort of address the immigration issue in a coherent way.”
The feeling is clearly mutual, insofar as such voters could prove critical to making Rubio’s exit from the Senate the ultimate success.
“I think he’s enjoyed his time in the Senate but doesn’t think he can get things done there; he thinks the executive branch is the way to go,” says the Florida operative.
— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review.