Exactly one month ago, Sen. Marco Rubio went on a late-night Twitter rant about his future in politics. Newly free from the on-message discipline of his failed presidential campaign, Rubio logged into his account and vented some frustration about press reports speculating about what his next step would be. When he launched that doomed presidential campaign, Rubio announced that he would not be running for reelection to the Senate, and his mid-May tweetstorm made clear that he was sticking to that decision, regardless of what the pundits might be saying.
Well, guess what? Turns out his resolve has been weakened. The Republican establishment, increasingly panicked over the possibility that Donald Trump’s cratering campaign could imperil the GOP’s Senate majority, has been pleading with Rubio to get into the Florida Senate race and defend his own seat. And Rubio could only say “no” so many times before switching to “maybe.” “I've enjoyed my service here a lot,” the senator told reporters this week. “So I'll go home later this week and I'll have some time with my family and then, if there's been a change in our status, I'll be sure to let everyone know.”
The knock on Rubio has been, and continues to be, that he’s an overly ambitious striver who will happily set aside principle in the service of his own advancement. Rubio seems to do everything in his power to vindicate that impression, and this waffling on his Senate reelection is still another example of it.
When Rubio says “I’ve enjoyed my service” as a senator, he’s lying. His presidential campaign was explicitly rooted in the idea that Rubio could not do the things he wanted to do as a politician because the Senate was a sclerotic hellhole that was ill-suited to his grandiose dreams of American greatness. He defended himself from repeated attacks over his absenteeism by slagging the Senate as a functionally useless body that was beneath his time. “As a senator I can help shape the agenda. Only a president can set the agenda,” Rubio said in January. “We’re not going to fix America with senators and congressmen.”
The awkward inconsistences don’t end there. Throughout his presidential campaign, Rubio very publicly bristled at the idea that he, an upstart candidate, should set aside his own ambition and defer to the favored candidate of the party establishment (namely, Jeb Bush). “I have heard some suggest that I should step aside and wait my turn,” Rubio said at his announcement speech. “But I cannot.” Now, if Rubio does decide to run for reelection, he’ll be the hand-picked establishment favorite, and the expectation will be that other Republican candidates will “wait their turn” and sacrifice their campaigns for his benefit.
All this will undoubtedly be deployed against Rubio by the Democrats should he rethink his choice and run for reelection. They won’t have much difficulty in painting him as an opportunist whose chief motivation is his own ambition. That attack will stick because it’s self-evidently true, and we’ve already seen how badly it hurt him in Florida.
Rubio’s incumbency might make him a stronger candidate than the other Florida Republicans running for the seat, but let’s not forget that Rubio already faced the Florida electorate once this year and he got smoked, losing every single county to Donald Trump save for his Miami-Dade home turf. Republican voters abandoned Rubio because, put simply, they felt he abandoned them. And, like any Republican running for office this year, Rubio would have Trump weighing him down. This will be an especially acute problem for Rubio given that he was an opportunistic #NeverTrump booster during the presidential primary, but is now committed to supporting the nominee even though he still thinks Trump can’t be trusted as president.
That’s a lot of inconsistencies and convenient reversals to overcome if Rubio signs on for a reelection bid that, as recently as a month ago, he insisted wasn’t going to happen.