Marco Rubio is a troll, not a senator: How the '16 hopeful went from "serious" legislator to hot mess

His legislative career is basically over. Now Rubio will just spend the next year annoying his colleagues

Published May 6, 2015 6:59PM (EDT)

  (AP/Alan Diaz)
(AP/Alan Diaz)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was cornered into making a very Harry Reid-like move yesterday: when a couple of Republican senators insisted on thrusting forth "poison pill" amendments to the Corker-Cardin Iran nuclear review bill, and thus sending what had been an orderly, bipartisan amendment process into chaos, McConnell had to shut down debate and file for cloture. McConnell had been doing a decent job of restoring open debate and amendment to the chamber, but it was inevitable he'd run into the same problem as Reid: all it takes is a grandstander or two to bring the gentleman's club that is the United States Senate to its knees.

While McConnell, Reid, Corker and Cardin were working out the process for amendments -- and Democrats, who had filed no amendments, were willing to take votes on some Republican poison pills! -- Tom Cotton and Rubio butted to the front of the line to force votes on their own amendments. One of these, from Rubio, would require any Iran deal to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. This is the sort of thing that one insists on if his goal is to kill a nuclear deal with Iran.

Democrats lost interest in voting on dumb Republican amendments after Cotton and Rubio's hijinks, and so McConnell decided to wrap up debate. After only a few months in office, Cotton, who unfortunately will be in the Senate for the next million or so years, has fallen out of favor with his colleagues.

As has Rubio. But Rubio will not be in the Senate for the next million years! Come 2017, he will either be president of the United States, vice president of the United States, or vaguely unemployed while laying the foundation for his next presidential run. Earning the hatred of his colleagues is either a non-concern or something that he actively will be seeking to do. "For Mr. Rubio," the New York Times writes, "whom Mr. Cotton represented in his move to force an Israel vote, the stakes are relatively low. Mr. Rubio is leaving the Senate to run for the Republican presidential nomination and needs to curry favor with primary voters, not members of the Senate."

Translated from Timesspeak: Boy howdy, that Marco Rubio is gonna be a hot mess from now on. Unlike Sens. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham, Rubio is a lame duck. His brief tenure as someone who tried to be a practical legislator or maintain productive relationships with his colleagues is well and truly over. The only incentive he has as a member of the United States Senate now is to troll his colleagues for personal political gain, a leg up in the GOP presidential primary, and Sheldon Adelson's money. Pretty sweet gig, eh? Who wouldn't love a six-figure job where your duty is to produce nothing of value while maximally annoying your colleagues? (To answer your follow-up: I make five figures and my goal is to maximally annoy readers.)

It's the good life, alright. But consider where Marco Rubio was just a couple of years ago. His on-ramp to the presidential race was supposed to be as the Tea Party senator who sold the right on comprehensive immigration reform. He was going to be the pragmatic conservative who, at great personal risk, ushered through a major piece of legislation to fix a lingering problem and shore up his party's long-term demographic prospects.

We all know what happened with that. The gambit failed and he spent the next year profusely apologizing to conservatives and taking hard-right positions on just about everything, while renouncing his own efforts at comprehensive immigration reform. (In public, at least.) It's worked surprisingly well. Despite having no accomplishments to his Senate career, and having backed off his signature issue, the handicappers still consider him a top-tier candidate right up there with Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. Learn your lesson, aspiring Republican legislators: taking risks in order to accomplish things is poor politics.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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