Florida Senator Marco Rubio could be a force in the future Republican party. He checks most of the boxes of a successful Republican presidential nominee: he seems to support immigration reform, he has a broad following in the crucial state of Florida, and as a 43-year-old Cuban, he cuts against the image of the Republican Party as a group of old, white men. However, Marco Rubio is making a serious mistake in running for president in 2016.
Rubio’s image is that of a relatively pragmatic Republican. True, he was elected in 2010 as the Tea Party alternative to Charlie Crist, but Rubio’s policy positions have generally aligned more with those of the Republican establishment. His support for comprehensive immigration reform and his hawkish foreign policy views make him appear to be quite similar to the last Republican president, establishment favorite George W. Bush. But, unfortunately for Rubio, there is another candidate who embodies the Republican establishment even better than he does: the other Bush brother, Jeb.
Jeb Bush is beloved within the establishment wing of the Republican party. This business-oriented group can’t support his campaign quickly enough; contributions are coming so rapidly in such a large amount that Bush has reportedly put a million dollar cap on contributions to his campaign during this fundraising quarter. The Washington Post has speculated that Bush might raise as much as $500 million by June, which is nearly twice as much as John McCain spent during the entire 2008 general election. Over the course of the Republican primary, Jeb Bush will raise staggering amounts of money, and it’s unlikely that any other establishment candidate will be able to keep pace. What this implies for Rubio is that there are precious few establishment dollars available to finance his campaign. Florida donors have already flocked to Bush; according to Politico, Bush’s most recent Florida fundraiser attracted 300 guests, while Rubio’s latest effort brought in 20 people.
From the establishment perspective, Rubio is massively outgunned, and it seems unlikely that he could make up the difference using with Tea Party support. The Tea Party has already forsaken Rubio after his sponsorship of the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill. Furthermore, there are several alternative candidates more ideologically consistent with the Tea Party, including Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Rand Paul, and even Scott Walker. As such, it is hard to see the über-conservatives coming to Rubio’s recuse.
Under some circumstances, it wouldn’t matter that Rubio’s presidential bid is likely heading for failure. Senators run for, and lose, party nominations all the time. John McCain and Orrin Hatch lost to George Bush in the 2000 Republican primaries, and Hillary Clinton lost to President Obama in 2008. However, those candidates differed from Rubio in that none were up for reelection to the Senate when they ran for president. Each could seek the presidential nomination without fear of losing their Senate seat. Rubio, however, was elected to the Senate in 2010, meaning he would have to run for reelection in 2016 to stay in the Senate. Given that Rubio has said that he will not seek the presidency and reelection to the Senate simultaneously, he will be completely out of politics in 2017 if he fails to win both the Republican primary and the presidency.
Giving up his Senate seat and losing the presidency wouldn’t mean the end of Rubio’s career. After all, Rubio will be only 45 in 2016, meaning that he will still have plenty of races left to run. He could even run again for the presidency in 2020, assuming a Republican doesn’t win in the upcoming election. If that is the case, he will likely be running without the advantage of incumbency in any office. His resumé, which contains one term in the Senate and no significant legislative accomplishments, would start to look quite similar to Jim Webb’s, whom very few are taking seriously in this cycle’s Democratic field. This would make it significantly more difficult for Rubio to portray himself as the Republicans’ most viable candidate.
One of my former teachers recently suggested to me that Rubio might not be running merely for the presidency. Instead, he may also be auditioning for the vice presidency or a cabinet position. While I agree that this is plausible, I still believe that Rubio would be unwise to do so. There are only a handful of potential Republican candidates capable of defeating Hillary Clinton in a general election. Rubio himself is one, as are Jeb Bush, Rob Portman, and John Kasich (Scott Walker, in my opinion, would be relatively unappealing to the general electorate). Portman, though, has already declared that he will not run for president in 2016, and Kasich seems increasingly likely to follow his lead. That leaves Rubio and Bush as the most viable Republican candidates against Clinton. However, Bush would be constitutionally barred from selecting Rubio as his running mate, because of the infrequently invoked constitutional provision preventing the election of a president and vice president from the same state. It seems to me then, that the only viable candidate against Clinton besides Rubio himself cannot add Rubio to his ticket. Rubio, then, seems out of luck if he is hoping to be elected to the vice presidency.
As far as the cabinet goes, I find it extremely unlikely that any Republican president would put Marco Rubio in his or her cabinet. Rubio’s area of expertise is foreign affairs, but no president in his or her right mind would appoint a 45-year-old with limited foreign affairs experience to be Secretary of State. There are dozens of more qualified candidates, and any president looking to establish a positive legacy would likely look to them instead.
Finally, by running for president in 2016, Rubio is jeopardizing a far easier road to the presidency in the future. The Republican field in 2020 is likely to be far less crowded (assuming there is no Republican incumbent), and if Rubio were to remain in the Senate, he would be well positioned to challenge Clinton in 2020 without risking his Senate seat. If a Republican were to win in 2016 (and really, I think Bush is the only one who can), Rubio could run in 2024 with 14 years of Senate experience under his belt. By that point, he could be the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, or even a leader of the Republican Senate caucus. In either scenario, Rubio could seek the presidency from a far stronger position, and likely with weaker competition.
Given all these considerations, Senator Rubio made a grave miscalculation on April 13th when he declared his candidacy for president. As a Democrat, though, I’m thrilled that such a promising Republican chose to neutralize himself for future races.
Brett Parker, a sophomore studying political science, is the law editor of Stanford Political Journal.