The temptations of Marco Rubio

It long has been a political truth that delegates to the 1956 Democratic National Convention in Chicago did a young, brash and wealthy John F. Kennedy a favor by turning back his bid to be the party’s vice presidential standard bearer.  The thinking holds that without Kennedy on the ticket his Catholicism could not be blamed for Adlai Stevenson’s overwhelming loss to an incumbent President.  At the same time, however, Kennedy’s high-profile battle on the convention floor boosted his chances for the 1960 presidential nomination.  When he knew he did not have the last few votes he needed, Kennedy pulled the plug and magnanimously endorsed Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee on national television.

One wonders if the same truth does not apply to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whose potential candidacy for the Republican vice presidential nomination was given a second wind last week by former Florida governor Jeb Bush and former mayor New York City Rudy Giuliani.


Given the stumbles so far of the Romney campaign, it strains credulity that Bush and Giuliani are part of some grand and greater strategy to keep Rubio’s name current.  Romney’s strategists are being criticized for running an amateurish campaign, not doing their advance work well and failing to hone a message that parries off the Obama attacks on Romney as a rich, out-of-touch tax dodger. Observers think a  more sophisticated campaign plan is more of a hope at this point.

So what matters more is what Rubio thinks, especially if he has convinced himself that he is being vetted.  A seemingly weak candidate like Romney can be influenced, and Tea Partiers and more pragmatic long-term thinkers like Bush, Giuliani and Karl Rove who see the demographic tide turning against the Republican Party could conjoin to push Rubio on Romney. Rubio could help that along if he wants.  Rubio must be sorely tempted.

Politics is about timing.  The first Hispanic or Latino to become President almost certainly will have to go through the Office of the Vice Presidency.  And so the polls must be driving Rubio crazy, for they purport to show that Romney has a chance to win.  If Rubio is not on the ticket and Romney wins, whoever Romney picks would be the odds-on favorite to win the presidential nomination, presumably in 2020.  Rubio must be sorely tempted.

Rubio is not personally wealthy like Kennedy and he is not going to get more bites at the apple than anyone else.  His Cuban base is shrinking within the Hispanic or Latino population in Florida, so his electoral value in future presidential elections in which Florida’s electoral votes remain important will diminish.  And in the near future a viable Hispanic or Latino will emerge on the Democratic side of the equation, so there might not be a better time for Rubio, who must be sorely tempted.

Rubio has another thing going for him:  Unlike Kennedy, he probably would not be blamed for losing an election that Romney seems determined to frit away – not with current Republican thinking that somehow, sometime the GOP is going to have to appeal to a HispanicLatino population steadily growing nationally.  If Rubio can bump Romney up even three or four points from his current 25 percent of the HispanicLatino vote even in a losing cause, he could claim victory.  Rubio must be sorely tempted.

Kennedy was seduced by the prospect, and he went after it.  It worked out for him.  Perhaps Rubio can wage a campaign for the vice presidential nomination without it ever becoming a floor fight like it did in 1956 between Kennedy and Kefauver.  Or perhaps he thinks Romney can rally the faithful and unseat Obama.  More likely, Rubio will try to pull an Obama and use a convention keynote speech to launch his presidential ambitions.

Still, he must be sorely tempted.

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