The Hill quotes Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as saying, “I think when someone contemplates running for president of the United States, you do so based on . . . criteria you’ve established for yourself. I don’t think those are decisions that you make with someone else’s decision in mind . . . And I would bet you if [Jeb Bush] was here today he’d give you the exact same answer.”
On a personal level it is hard for some of us to imagine competing in a brutal campaign day in and day out against a former mentor and current friend (how close they are we don’t fully know). But in this case, Rubio is right on the merits, especially considering how different he is from Jeb Bush.
True, they are both from Florida and both favor immigration reform and a strong role for the United States in the world. Beyond that, however, they are very different people with appeals to distinct sorts of voters. Rubio (albeit not as much as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz) would be the choice for those who value ideology over experience, freshness over experience and star power over maturity. For those who think it’s essential about now to have a seasoned executive, want someone comfortable in his own skin and think new is not necessarily better, Bush is the guy.
Their philosophy of governing (or not governing) also differs. Rubio was among the leaders of the shutdown, refused to vote for the many budget compromises (the Budget Control Act, the fiscal cliff deal, etc.) since he has been elected and just disavowed any belief in global warming. Although right wingers consider him “soft” on immigration, he’s uncompromising on just about everything else. Granted Jeb Bush was an executive and not a senator in the minority, but he did accomplish things as governor on a range of issues. He is intensely more goal-oriented than purity-obligated. His record is conservative, but his rhetoric is far less ideological than those whom he might run against in 2016.
As for his support, Rubio is a puzzle. To a large degree, he divided and subdivided his base. He came to the Senate styling himself as a Republican Hillary Clinton, hard working and focused on policy. He gave stirring speeches on America’s role in the world. But he then gave a variety of supporters whiplash. The leader on immigration in the Senate went mute when the bill went to the House. The policy wonk bought into the irrational shutdown tactic. The hawk voted with the isolationists against authorization to use force in Syria. In other words, supporters didn’t know what to make of him. Right-wing anti-immigration reformers thought him naïve at best while mainstream Republicans and foreign policy hawks felt he was betraying their interests to go running after the far right. How he’ll run in 2016 is a bit of a mystery.
Jeb Bush, on the other hand, delights in sticking to his positions. He defends his immigration reform stance (which doesn’t include a path to citizenship and is therefore far less generous than Rubio’s plan) and valiantly tries to dispel right-wing myths about the Common Core curriculum. He is who he is, perhaps because at this stage in his career and without elected office to defend he need not turn himself into a pretzel to please others. That, however, may leave him with an uphill climb (not unlike Mitt Romney) when it comes time eventually to unite the party and gain the support of his right flank. (His record in Florida was far more conservative than Romney’s in Massachusetts, so the climb might not be quite so steep.)
In some respects a Bush-Rubio match up would be the GOP version of Hillary Clinton vs. Barack Obama – one runs on experience and practical politics, the other on ideology and inspiration. There is certainly room for both, but it’s not clear Rubio wants to bet his Senate seat (he won’t run for re-election if he goes for the presidency, he says) or Jeb Bush wants to cast aside his private life. If they both do jump in, it will be one of many interesting match-ups.