Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, a potential 2012 presidential candidate, is in Tampa today to endorse U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio, a former Florida house speaker. In a joint interview with National Review Online this afternoon, the two Republicans spoke about the timing of Romney’s endorsement, Gov. Charlie Crist (R., Fla.) – Rubio’s opponent in the August primary – and Romney’s health-care plan in Massachusetts.
“Speaker Rubio is a person who can fight the spending gluttony in Washington,” Romney says. “He has a record as a fiscal conservative. He said ‘no’ to the Obama stimulus plan, and he will get Washington back to sanity.”
Romney’s endorsement of Rubio, which follows those by fellow 2008 presidential contenders Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee, was a long time coming. “Why now? The veto that Governor Crist made of the education-reform bill really tipped the balance for me,” Romney explains. “I have to admit that I was very concerned when I saw Governor Crist support the Obama stimulus. I was very much inclined to support Speaker Rubio when I watched the debate on Fox, the one with Chris Wallace. But the decision to actually step in occurred when I had heard that he had vetoed the education-reform bill.”
In recent days, rumors have swirled in Florida over whether Crist will abandon his primary campaign against Rubio, either to drop out or to run as an independent. Polls show Crist potentially beating Rubio as an independent candidate in a three-way race – so does Rubio want Crist to stay in the GOP primary? “I actually, to be quite frank, really don’t even think a lot about it in those terms,” Rubio says. “To me, the race is about going to Washington, D.C., standing up to Obama’s agenda, and offering an alternative. As far as I’m concerned, I’m the only one in this race that will do that. That’s why I got in it when no one thought I could win. Whether it’s Charlie Crist or Kendrick Meek (the probable Democratic nominee), both have been supporters of the Obama agenda, so the race doesn’t really change from my perspective. It’s still about the same things, and still I’m the only one in the race that will stand up to the Obama agenda and offer a clear alternative.”
Does Crist still have a place in the GOP? Romney says he does. “He has a place in the party, because he’s still in the primary,” he says. “I hope that he either continues in the primary, or, if he concludes that he does not want to remain in the primary, steps aside and helps to unite the party behind Marco Rubio.” And if Crist plays his cards right, Romney believes he will have a future in Republican politics. “Down the road, or in other spots, he may well find a place where he can make a real contribution. He helped to build the Republican party in Florida, and he certainly wouldn’t want to be one of those who want to detract from it.”
At this point, can anyone in national GOP circles talk Crist out of an independent run? “I think this is a decision he will make on his own,” Romney says. “I presume many people will offer advice. You find that in the world of politics: lots of advice from a lot of people. But ultimately, the decision will be made by Governor Crist. I listened to him on the Fox debate, and he made it very clear, definitively, that he would stay in the Republican primary. And I take him at his word.”
Rubio has spent much of his campaign focused on health care. Is he a fan of Romney’s Massachusetts health-care plan? “It’s a work in progress,” Rubio says, speaking of the Bay State program. “There are major distinctions between that and what Obama is trying to do in Washington. For one, it didn’t raise any taxes. Number two, it is not adding to our deficit. That is my biggest objection to Obamacare, although there are many others. My number-one objection to Obamacare is that we can’t afford it, even if it was the greatest idea in the world.”
“Florida and Massachusetts are very different places,” Rubio continues. “All I would say to you is that states were designed to be laboratories for creative thoughts and ideas. That’s what the Framers of our great republic intended. They wanted the states to be the places that came up with innovation and competition. And I’ll tell you what, if Massachusetts gets it wrong and Florida gets it right, people will move to Florida, and businesses will move to Florida, and vice versa. There are just major distinctions between what’s happening in Washington and what I hope states will do. Like I said, what I’m not in favor of is what Barack Obama has done, which is to raise taxes and add to the federal deficit in exchange of taking a step toward a single-payer system in America.”
Free and Strong America, Romney’s PAC, is contributing the maximum $5,000 allowed to Rubio’s campaign. In 2006, Romney, then head of the Republican Governors Association, traveled to Florida to support Crist’s gubernatorial candidacy with a $1 million check. In light of that history, Rubio says, Romney’s endorsement is “another boost” for his campaign.