FIX: Marco Rubio insists he is not at all undecided about his future. What’s your sense on where he’s headed?
Caputo: Rubio’s headed to the private sector, but I don’t know where. He said he doesn’t want to be a lobbyist or work for Wall Street and that he wants to come home to Miami (he lives in West Miami, technically). The financial bottom line aside, the bottom line for his new job is that it will have to add to his private-sector experience and/or round out his résumé. When I saw him teach at Florida International University, Rubio loved it. He’ll probably stick with that, too. The paid speaking circuit is almost a guarantee. And so is stumping for other candidates (think of the way Mitt Romney did after 2008).
Rubio has been in politics for 16 years. His oldest daughter was born after he won his first legislative race. So his family (four kids, wife) has never had a “normal” life where Rubio wasn’t always in office, running for office or stumping on the road. Rubio would rather be with his family on the water in his new boat. He told me earlier this month that he only had been out on the water twice since he quit the presidential race March 15. Talk about a missed opportunity. So I can say with certainty that he’s headed to the Atlantic Ocean soon.
FIX: The governor’s race in 2018 is going to be a giant GOP race. If Rubio ran, what do his chances look like there?
Caputo: I don’t think Rubio will run for governor in 2018 for the same reason I predicted he wouldn’t run for reelection as senator in 2016, wouldn’t drop out of the presidential race before the March 15 Florida primary and wouldn’t be a vice-presidential running mate for anybody this year: Because he said so.
As for the Florida governor’s race, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam looks like an early Republican favorite. Putnam doesn’t want to be governor as much as he needs to be governor. He’s already running. And he’s running hard. Desire matters. Rubio doesn’t have it when it comes to the governor’s race in 2018. So in that regard, advantage Putnam.
If Rubio found the desire and ran (again, I think it’s highly unlikely), he wouldn’t clear the field. It would be a tough primary against Putnam. But Rubio would start with big advantages: Rubio is better-known, he’s well-liked by Republican voters even after a brutal presidential primary, he has a national fundraising network that includes a number of billionaires and he has the experience of running in higher-profile races.
Luckily for Putnam, Rubio seems sincere when he says he has no interest in the job in 2018. But I’m hesitant to do much handicapping beyond that. I’m also leery of a lot of folks pretending to know what Rubio is going to do beyond what he publicly says. He is his own top political adviser. He knows how to move the pieces on the board. He also has a very small circle. Except for his wife, those in his circle don’t ask him what he’s doing because they let him make that decision without pressure. And those few who know usually don’t tell. Beware of anything coming out of Miami. This is a city of phonies, frauds and backstabbers. So it’s similar to Washington but with more Spanish, Creole, Portuguese, better food and a nicer view of the water.
FIX: Let’s say Rubio stays out of the 2018 race. Is he a for-sure candidate in 2020 assuming Trump loses?
Caputo: Nothing is for sure. Especially in Florida elections. Rubio might find private life too appealing to leave. And if the Miami Dolphins or NFL offered him a top job, we might not see him on the ballot for a long time. Rubio doesn’t come across as a person who needs elected office to feel validated.
But if Trump loses, it's hard to imagine Rubio not making another run in 2020.
FIX: What was Rubio’s image in the state before the 2016 race? Did how he ran change that?
Caputo: The data from Quinnipiac University, which regularly polls Florida, show Rubio’s job-approval rating (which is the closest we can get to measuring his image consistently over time from the same pollster) took a beating. Before he entered the presidential campaign in April of 2015, Rubio’s net job-approval rating among Florida voters was +19 percentage points (54 percent approving and 35 percent disapproving). It then peaked at +26 (57-31) in August. But then it plummeted to -7 (42-49) in last week’s poll. Self-identified independents soured the most on him, with his net job-approval falling from a high of +27 in August to a low of -20 today (47 points!). Rubio’s net job-approval among Republicans also had a big drop, by 42 percentage points. It stands at +37 today (65-28).
This ought not shock. There are few well-known politicians who ever emerge from a presidential contest more popular than before they entered the race. Any candidate’s image will take a beating. And let’s not underplay who administered most of the beating: Jeb Bush World, which was surprisingly offended by the temerity of Rubio’s decision to run for president. So it dumped millions of dollars on negative ads on Rubio (much of it on FOX’s national broadcast).
Despite all of that, Rubio’s overall numbers in Florida are still generally better than Clinton’s, Trump’s or Gov. Rick Scott’s. And another recent poll, conducted for Associated Industries of Florida, showed that if Rubio ran for reelection, he would be the only Republican favored to beat Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy – by 8 percentage points. That poll showed Trump losing to Clinton by 13 points
Rubio is ultimately responsible for Rubio. He knew the risks. He ran. I’m not sure if the way he ran affected his image as much as the fact that he ran. And let’s not overlook the fact that he was a face of the Gang of 8’s 2013 immigration bill, which was figuratively burned in effigy this year by Republican voters who ultimately winnowed down their choice to two “no-amnesty” hardliners, Trump and Ted Cruz. Also, Rubio didn’t help himself when he fell flat at the now-infamous New Hampshire debate, a turning point in his campaign.
Losing begets losing. Winning begets winning. But absence often makes voters’ hearts grow fonder. If and when Rubio returns to the campaign trail (especially if it’s in 2020 after a failed Trump bid and high GOP dudgeon over President Clinton, or maybe even Bernie Sanders), all of the above poll numbers will be meaningless.
FIX : Finish this sentence: The next time that Marco Rubio is on the ballot in _________. Now, explain.
...a place and time of his choosing.
Marco Rubio will turn 45 on the Saturday after next, May 28. He only has a mortgage payment as debt. He’s well-known, beloved by a segment of the electorate and will walk into a high-paying job where he can pick and choose what he does next. For all the aforementioned reasons, 2020 (if Trump loses) is a good a bet. But beyond that, all bets are off because he has an entire life ahead of him.
In 29 years, he will be as old as Bernie Sanders is now.
In 24 years, he will be as old as Donald Trump is now.
In 23 years, he will be as old as Hillary Clinton is now.