“Mister, we could use a man like Marco Rubio again,” is a phrase that would never cross the minds of any sentient life form on this or any other planet. But something approximating the sentiment behind it has crossed Rubio’s mind recently, because on Wednesday he reversed course on his future. Having previously said he would leave the Senate when his term expires at the end of the year, Rubio announced he would run for re-election to the Senate after all.
Ostensibly, this change of heart is about helping Republicans keep their Senate majority. Without Rubio, the Democrats have a good chance of capturing the seat. But with the incumbent running, the hill is a little higher. And the Republicans in the Senate will need all the help they can get to check the dread tyrant Hillary Clinton, or even Donald Trump if the country really loses its mind.
It would be impossible to overstate just how cynical a career move this is from Rubio. Here was a man who has been suffering through what could be termed, if he was still in high school, the worst case of senioritis of all time. During the year he spent running for the Republican nomination for president, Rubio had an absentee rating of 41 percent on roll-call votes at his day job, a number that led Donald Trump to say during the primary that his rival “has the number-one absentee record in the United States Senate.” Politifact grudgingly gave the carrot-colored mound of bile and hair a “Mostly True” rating for that statement. If your record on something is so poor that even Donald Trump doesn’t need to lie to make you look lazy and uninterested, you have a problem.
Absurd as it is, our system requires that a presidential candidate spend lots of time campaigning in far-flung states far in advance of the election. So one could excuse Rubio for his many absences from the Senate, if he had not repeatedly trashed his job while he was away from it. Because the snarking from Trump and Jeb Bush seemed to get under his skin, though, that made it a story that reporters kept asking about as they followed him around the country during his campaign.
Rubio had not been shy about sharing his frustrations with the slow pace of the Senate. But out on the campaign trail, he responded to reporters’ questions like a petulant child whining because his parents were mad at him for ditching Sunday school. His answers were mostly variations on two themes: The Senate and the president both suck, so he had to skip out on one job in order to get elected to the other.
"A lot of the work we're doing in the Senate isn't going to go anywhere unless we have the right president and that's why I'm running for president,” he told reporters in New Hampshire while campaigning there last October, four months before the state’s primary. “While as a senator I can help shape the agenda, only a president can set the agenda. We’re not going to fix America with senators and congressmen," he said in Iowa in January.
Then, after getting crushed in the primary in his home state of Florida, Rubio both quit the race and announced he would quit the Senate, saying he would not seek re-election after finishing out his term, which ends this year.
But Rubio is a career politician with ambitions that far outweigh any demonstrated abilities or accomplishments. So even while he was in the midst of an infamous tweet storm on Twitter five weeks ago, during which he reiterated that he would be a private citizen come January, he was also hedging his bets, telling his followers with all the sarcasm he was capable of summoning, “It's nearly impossible for someone not in office to ever become a successful candidate for President. Right?”
Since then, he kept slipping hints into the public sphere with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the skull. Close allies who had been planning on running for the seat started changing their minds. Just last week he cynically and transparently wrapped himself in the Orlando massacre, making the slaughter of 49 people his excuse to do something he has been hinting for weeks he would do. “I think when it visits your home state, and it impacts a community you know well, it really gives you pause to think a little bit about, you know, your service to your country and where you can be most useful to your country,” he told Hugh Hewitt on the latter’s radio show, later adding, “My family and I will be praying about all this, and we’ll see what I need to do next with my life in regards to how I can best serve.”
Okay, sure. It’s about serving. Raise your hand if you saw Rubio immediately fly back to Washington to support the Democrats’ filibuster demanding votes on gun-control bills, or take to the Senate floor to present any ideas at all for preventing such shootings – demanding more thorough investigations by the FBI when an Omar Mateen pops up on its radar, or an end to the wars in the Middle East that may have inspired his radicalization, or compassion for people who may be struggling to accept their sexuality without succumbing to apocalyptic rage, anything. Pick your preferred explanation for the shooting and make it your cause.
No, the answer to Rubio’s re-election decision could be found in the New York Times, which reported that the senator has privately told colleagues and advisers that he’s reluctant to give up his Senate seat because it is a high-profile springboard to another presidential run in 2020 or 2024. That should make for quite the pitch to his constituents in Florida: “Vote for Rubio so he can perform the job for two years before he starts ditching it to spend weeks at a time on the rubber-chicken circuit in Iowa and New Hampshire.” Inspiring stuff!
If Florida Democrats are at all competent – ha ha, I know, but humor me – they will wrap Rubio’s cynicism and blind ambition around him until he can’t stand up under its weight. Then maybe he really will have to get a real job in January.