Marco Rubio must be smiling.
The baby-faced U.S. senator and presidential hopeful is having the best two weeks of his life.
Not only did he get needlessly razed by the arch-liberal New York Times in two attack pieces, he’s also receiving the cold shoulder by everybody’s who’s somebody in Florida’s Republican establishment. According to CNN, 11 of the 17 Republicans in Florida’s congressional delegation support Bush.
The state Cabinet, which includes Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater support Jeb, too. We await the Let’s Get to Work guv’s endorsement. He’s mum for now.
Nevertheless, Rubio’s gotta be thinking: It’s 2010 all over again. And, babe, I like it!
Recall that Rubio was the insurgent candidate against then Republican establishment favorite Gov. Charlie Crist in the 2010 Republican primary for U.S. Senate.
Recall that the National Republican Senatorial Committee all but told Rubio to drop out of that race.
Recall polls that had Crist at a big lead — an unstoppable juggernaut.
But recall, too, 2010 was the year of Tea Party euphoria and as one of those who embraced the Tea Party from the very beginning, Marco Rubio coasted on anti-government rage to a general election victory.
Undoubtedly, presidential primaries are vastly different beasts than mid-term elections. Undoubtedly, Bush is cashing in on decades of investment in the gritty business of alliance-building and the prestige of his last name in Republican politics. Undoubtedly, too, this is the deferential Republican Party at play: Jeb’s next in line; wait your turn, youngster.
It is also a rare bit of consistency from Republicans: since 2008, the GOP has spent millions in attack ads belittling President Barack Obama’s experience, so they intend to avoid hypocrisy on the point.
Here’s the problem for Bush: This reeks heavily of entitlement. Before his formal announcement for president, there had already been murmuring that Bush was arrogantly taking the best party operatives for his campaign, at the expense of other GOP presidential candidates.
Bush’s tendency to brandish his sword, only expecting retreat from his competitors, is the bully side of him that presumes that only fear produces results.
So, it’s no surprise that when the call likely came in from Bush HQ, knowledgeable politicos would fall in line and support the Jeb juggernaut.
This is the wrong approach for Bush because (1) he’s certainly no frontrunner, (2) while the myth of an open-ended 2016 Republican primary is daily being put to rest, his move in Florida suggests that Bush sees Rubio as not only one of his men to beat, but his own political vulnerability in his adopted home state, and (3) official support does not approximate actual support within the party. It may, in fact, make grassroots party members resentful and wary.
Rubio likely sees all of this, and gloats that he’ll be playing the insurgent role again.
The upside beyond the insurgency element for Rubio is it forces Bush to confront the insistency of his campaign image as a faux outsider vis-à-vis current Washington, D.C., politics.
Furthermore, Rubio accentuates his fresh appeal to grassroots Republicans; his youthful image is bolstered; his Washington experience fades in the background, and Rubio plays up his life story and everything associated with a new start. But that is the outward game.
It’s interesting, to say the least, that relative contemporaries to Rubio — Pam Bondi, Adam Putnam — would not see the advantage of waiting until the Super Tuesday primaries. Unless, of course, Bush power was so coercive in this case that there was effectively no choice.
Both Bondi and Putman are the future of the GOP in Florida. A homage to Bush without even a reported courtship appears a little unseemly. And if Rubio happens to win the GOP nomination, why alienate a potential kingmaker?
Is Florida GOP politics so conformist that its top leaders cannot think of their own political self-determination?
That is, is today’s GOP establishment trapped in a Jeb Bush rerun that only they want to watch? Or, more likely, being forced to pretend to like at the point of a (oh, metaphorical!) .9 millimeter gun?
Sometime soon, Rubio will make that case. With a million-watt smile.
Chris Timmons is a writer based in Tallahassee. Column courtesy of Context Florida.