There are three obvious downsides to Marco Rubio’s decision to run for reelection to the United States Senate. First, he’s flip-flopped: As recently as May, he promised not to enter the race. Second, even if he wins, he’ll spend the coming years taking votes that could cause him problems in a presidential campaign. Or, if he skips those votes, he’ll be slammed for his absenteeism, as he was by his primary opponents this year. Third, and most importantly, if he loses his reelection bid, his political career is likely over.
Still, his decision to seek reelection was wise. That’s because if he wins, he can run for president as the guy he really is.
On its face, the lesson of 2016 is that it’s better to seek the Republican presidential nomination from as far away from Washington as possible. By this logic, Rubio should vacate his Senate seat and spend the years leading up to the 2020 campaign railing against the Republican establishment, a la Donald Trump.
But there are two problems with that plan. First, Rubio isn’t a mega-celebrity; he won’t be able to command massive media attention outside of the Senate. “Generally, it’s always harder for conservative leaders to be really influential without any official role,” noted a Republican strategist who took part in discussions with Rubio about his decision to run. (He spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the confidential nature of those conversations.) Yes, Rubio can go on Fox News, this strategist said, but he “runs the risk of being Mike Huckabee,” who could never get back to center stage after dropping out of the 2008 presidential race.