Marco Rubio Makes the Case Against Governors for 2016

The country's national security, the Florida Republican said, is the "central obligation of the federal government."

National Journal

In a glimpse of the kind of presidential campaign he'll wage should he run, Sen. Marco Rubio on Wednesday argued that whoever wins the presidency in 2016 will need to have a strong understanding of foreign policy—and that puts governors at a disadvantage.

"The next president of the United States needs to be someone that has a clear view of what's happening in the world, a clear strategic vision of America's role in it, and a clear tactical plan for how to engage America in global affairs," the Florida senator said to reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington. "And I think for governors, that's going to be a challenge initially because they don't deal with foreign policy on a daily basis."

The country's national security, he said, is the "central obligation of the federal government." It was a subtle dig at his fellow establishment Republicans, two of whom happen to be former governors: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rubio's Florida colleague, former Gov. Jeb Bush, who are each openly considering a 2016 bid. And it set the tone for how Rubio will attempt to frame a presidential campaign.

Though he acknowledged that governors have made great presidents in the past, Rubio said that strong national security is the key to any successful administration. Rubio, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, alluded to the contrasts between himself and the other candidates, highlighting his Senate foreign policy experience.

"I've certainly been very engaged in political and national security and foreign policy debates," he said, noting that he's been involved not only because it's important, but because he enjoys it. "And I feel very comfortable discussing and debating that with any of the potential candidates or anyone else who might want to discuss it."

But Rubio was careful not to directly criticize his possible primary opponents. He told reporters that Romney's 2012 campaign didn't have flaws; the former Republican nominee lost due to Obama's "superior campaign operation." Speaking generally, Rubio said that politicians need to have an understanding of the daily challenges voters have.

"It's important not just to understand that and identify with that, but then, to have policies that actually speak to it in an effective way," he said. "For those of us that aspire to serve, if we want to have the opportunity to do so, you better be focused on issues that are relevant to real people."

Even though Rubio said Bush would make an "incredible" candidate, he subtly contrasted his upbringing from that of the former Florida governor's.

"I remember growing up believing that despite the fact that my father was a bartender and my mom was a maid, I could have the same dreams and the same future as the son of a millionaire or even the son of a president," he said, declining to mention Bush by name.

Since Bush announced his interest in a 2016 run, he and Rubio have had an amicable public relationship. Last week, Bush even tweeted that he knows Rubio's new book, American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone, "will be a great, substantive read," and encouraged his more than 150,000 followers to "check it out as well."

Because of a Florida law that forbids candidates from being on the ballot for two offices at the same time, Rubio must choose whether to keep his current job and run for reelection to the Senate or to launch a presidential bid. He said Wednesday that he hasn't yet made that call.

"If I decide that I want to be president of the United States, that's what I'm going to run for," he said. "If I decide to make that decision, it will not be with the intention of looking for a Plan B if it doesn't work out."

Should Rubio run, he has all the arguments against his opponents ready to fuel a healthy campaign. He'll just need to start calling them out by name.