Rubio responds to Bush’s preemptive strike

I suspect that Jeb Bush is launching his presidential bid so early in part as a preemptive strike against Marco Rubio, his fellow Floridian. If Bush gains the inside track on key donors, especially ones from Florida, it might cause Rubio to think twice about running. If Rubio stays out, the benefit to Bush is obvious.

To forestall Bush’s attempt at a preemptive strike, Rubio promptly announced that he is still prepared to seek the presidency. His spokesman declared:

Marco has a lot of respect for Governor Bush, and believes he would be a formidable candidate. However, Marco’s decision on whether to run for President or re-election will be based on where he can best achieve his agenda to restore the American Dream—not on who else might be running.

Rubio obviously believes he can “best achieve his agenda to restore the American Dream” from the White House, not as the junior Senator from Florida.

How formidable a candidate Bush will be remains to be seen, but it’s quite likely that Bush will be a formidable obstacle to Rubio. Tim Alberta of the National Journal reports that “many Republicans believe the popular former governor would suck Florida’s donor community dry and leave Rubio without a political home base.”

I doubt that Rubio needs “a political home base” in any geographic sense (funding, of course, is another matter). But he could use an ideological home base, either as the favorite of the “establishment” or as the favorite of the conservative base.

After his amnesty frolic, Rubio, it seems to me, has no chance of being the favorite of the base. And with the seemingly inevitable entry of Jeb Bush, his chances of being the establishment favorite — always problematic because Rubio is young, lacks experience governing, and sometimes comes off as wet behind the ears — have dimmed further.

But Rubio retains paths to the nomination. The first path is as the one candidate in, essentially, a three candidate race (let’s say a Bush-Cruz-Rubio contest) who is acceptable to both the establishment and the base. This path sounds better on paper than it probably is in reality. It used to work in the 19th century when nominees often were chosen in a smoke-filled room, but the last election I can recall it applying to is the fictional one in Gore Vidal’s “The Best Man.”

The 2016 election could be a pattern-breaker, but Rubio will need tons of money to hang in the race as everyone’s second or third choice. I think he’ll find it difficult to bring that money in on those terms.

The other path opens up if Bush can’t get off the ground and no other establishment favorite — neither Romney nor Christie — enters. Bush is vulnerable because of his support for immigration reform and common core and because of his name. Rubio is even more vulnerable on immigration and the Bush name will, if anything, help Jeb with establishment-leaning voters — the ones who paved the way for the last two Republican nominees.

This leaves common core. I don’t think this issue will keep establishment-leaning voters from supporting Bush in states like New Hampshire, Michigan, and Ohio, but who knows? And who knows how effective Bush will be on the campaign trail and in debates? It’s been a long time since he’s run for anything.

So Rubio, though he should be discouraged by Bush’s entry, still has good reason to pursue his presidential aspirations in this cycle, just as Jeb Bush was wise to try to get the drop on Rubio.

Meanwhile, Ted Cruz has reason to be happy that Rubio isn’t ruling out competing with Bush for donors and center-right support. And “anyone-but-Cruz-and-Paul” donors have reason to make an early call on whether to support Bush’s preemptive strike against other potential entrants of center-right orientation.