Will Rubio Risk Running for Reelection?

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Marco Rubio gestures to the crowd after he made a speec  makes a campaign stop in Oklahoma City, February 26, 2016.
Marco Rubio.Photo: J Pat Carter/2016 Getty Images

It’s becoming more and more likely that failed presidential candidate Marco Rubio will reverse his long-standing commitment to retire from the Senate — you know, that chamber whose votes he so regularly missed while running for president — this year. His latest public excuse for reconsidering was that the Orlando shooting reminded him that the Senate needed a good terrorist-fighter and Second Amendment zealot. 

Now, it’s possible Rubio did indeed have a sudden upsurge of self-regard that compelled him to think sadly of the Senate as a barren, forlorn place in his absence. More likely there were some other considerations at play.

After losing the nomination so ignominiously to a candidate he palpably despised, right after he demeaned himself with juvenile gibes at Trump, Rubio’s immediate future did not look so bright. He apparently has no interest in trying to succeed two-term Republican governor Rick Scott. He did not immediately fall into some highly lucrative private-sector gig (as you may recall, he’s got a bit of a chronic personal financial problem). And in general his star did not burn as brightly as it did when he leaped into the 2016 presidential race as a classic young man in a hurry who was regarded as the answer to the GOP’s prayers. 

It’s entirely possible that Rubio feared he would fall off the face of the Earth before the next presidential contest rolled around. And then something happened that was music to the ears of any recently failed candidate: Florida and national Republicans looking at their less-than-dazzling Senate field started making goo-goo eyes at Rubio. With just a week before the end of qualifying, one current candidate, U.S. representative David Jolly, dropped his bid, alluding to a probable Rubio run.

But Rubio’s reelection is a much dicier proposition than it would have probably been had he never run for president. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has already released an online ad reminding Floridians of Rubio’s missed votes and repudiated promises to retire. And an early Public Policy Polling survey shows Rubio with a dreadful 32-54 job-approval figure and in a dead heat with the darling of national Democrats, Representative Patrick Murphy. Assuming Murphy gets by controversial House colleague Alan Grayson in the primary, he will be at least even money against the incumbent.

Maybe Rubio will make a comeback, but if he doesn’t, one of the most promising political careers in recent history could run aground quickly. A failed Senate bid after a failed presidential campaign is a recipe for early retirement at worst, or maybe a minor cabinet post or ambassadorship in somebody else’s administration at best. Richard Nixon survived something similar after his humiliating defeat in a bid for governor of California shortly after he lost the presidential election to John F. Kennedy. But it took six years of constant political travel and butt-kissing. It’s not clear Li’l Marco is up to that.