Marco Rubio: The Most Important Freshman Senator
Stephen Hayes writes in The Weekly Standard:
... None of this was inevitable.
Eighteen months earlier, Rubio had driven himself around the state doing “fundraisers” that generated so little cash they barely covered his expenses. In the first poll measuring support for possible Senate candidates, Rubio registered 3 percent. In the spring of 2009, when Florida’s then-popular governor announced that he was joining the race, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) immediately pledged its “full support” for Crist. Top Republicans in Florida and Washington rushed to endorse Crist and publicly urged—while privately demanding—that Rubio quit the race. Crist outraised Rubio by more than ten to one in the first quarter they were both in the race, and Rubio seriously considered dropping out.
But Rubio stayed in, and several things helped him gain momentum—a guerrilla ad campaign that defined Crist at the outset, crucial early endorsements from Mike Huckabee and Jim DeMint, a well-timed cover story in National Review, and an unconventional low-dollar fundraising strategy. The most important factors were the candidate and his message.
While most establishment Republicans were seeking to expand the party and recruit moderate candidates, Rubio wanted to debate the direction of the party. And while many other Republican candidates shaped their message to appeal to Tea Party conservatives, Rubio didn’t have to. He had been a Tea Party conservative long before the Tea Party was born.
Crist embraced the $787 billion proposal and literally hugged the popular president who had come to sell it. The crowd chanted “Yes We Can!” as Crist introduced Obama. “We know it’s that important that we pass a stimulus package. . . . This is not about partisan politics. This is about rising above that, helping America, and reigniting our economy.”
Rubio’s ad team—Harris, Thompson, and Miller—had been prepared for Crist’s announcement and immediately released a web ad that sought to define the choice for Florida Republicans. Over kaleidoscopic images swirling on the screen a narrator intones: “An election coming into focus. A choice for Florida’s future. Some politicians support trillions in reckless spending, borrowed money from China and the Middle East, mountains of debt for our children, and a terrible threat to a fragile economy.” With ominous music in the background, the blurry photo of Crist with Obama comes into focus. “Today, too many politicians embrace Washington’s same old broken ways. But this time, there is a leader who won’t. Let the debate begin.” As the ad ends, “Marco2010” flashes on the screen.
Within hours of Crist’s announcement, the National Republican Senatorial Committee pledged its backing. “While I believe Marco Rubio has a very bright future within the Republican party, Charlie Crist is the best candidate in 2010 to ensure that we maintain the checks and balances that Floridians deserve in the United States Senate,” said NRSC chairman Senator John Cornyn. “Governor Crist is a dedicated public servant and a dynamic leader, and the NRSC will provide our full support to ensure that he is elected the next United States senator from Florida.”
It was a big blow. “The senatorial committee endorsed him within minutes of his announcement,” Rubio recalled recently. “Followed by a flood of other people.” They included former Florida senator Mel Martinez, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, Senator John McCain, and Representatives Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who are, like Rubio, Cuban-Americans. Dozens of Florida Republicans jumped aboard the Crist bandwagon, eager to be on the winning team. Rubio won the endorsement of Mike Huckabee, but most people dismissed it as payback; Rubio had endorsed Huckabee in 2007.
Rubio had known the NRSC endorsement was coming. Cornyn had reached out to Jeb Bush the previous night to give him a heads up, and, coincidentally, Rubio had a meeting scheduled with Cornyn in Washington on the day that Crist announced. “I went over to the senatorial committee, and Senator Cornyn was gracious enough to come over from the Capitol to the senatorial committee to explain to me their decision and their rationale. It was a very respectful meeting. I told them they were wrong. I told them that I was going to win and that they would be shocked in a year.”
Rubio left the NRSC headquarters and walked three blocks to the Russell Senate Office Building for his next meeting. Heath Thompson, one of the political consultants who had met with Rubio back in January, was now working for the candidate. He had set up a meeting for Rubio with one of his previous clients, Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina.
DeMint was angry that the NRSC had supported Crist. “If you listen to what the moderates have said—we need youth, we need minorities, we need women. And here we have this young Cuban American who had proved himself as speaker of the House in Florida. And the committee was dissing him and ignoring him.”
One month later, with continuing calls for Rubio to drop out, DeMint offered his endorsement. “This gave me some hope,” says DeMint. “We could recruit some people and help some people who could help turn this country around.”
DeMint’s statement endorsing Rubio was a mixture of enthusiasm and frustration.For months now, Republicans have been looking around, asking everyone they meet who our next leaders will be. And somehow, inexplicably, many of us have grown blind to the diamonds all around us. There are already many young, conservative leaders ready to fight for freedom in Washington and in state capitals all around the country. But we’ll never find them if we only look for well-known politicians or choose our party’s direction based on the latest polls instead of timeless principles.Rubio says the endorsement was critical, maybe campaign-saving. “The fact that a sitting U.S. senator would endorse somebody who had only raised $250,000—long-term it’s proven to be a lot of support. But at the beginning it was a little dose of oxygen—just enough to keep you breathing for another couple of weeks.”
Marco Rubio has gotten as much positive national media attention as any Senate candidate since, well, Barack Obama. There is a natural inclination to think that he has been overhyped. That’s certainly the assumption I took with me to Florida in late September for the first of two five-day stints with his campaign.
It was wrong.
If anything, Rubio is underrated. Some Democrats seem to understand this. That fact, probably more than anything else, explains why the White House encouraged Bill Clinton as early as last spring to use his influence to get Meek out of the race and clear the way for Charlie Crist to run as a Democrat.
No Republican in the country offers a more compelling defense of American exceptionalism and a more powerful indictment of the Obama administration than Marco Rubio. He has had lots of practice. He ran against Obama more than he ran against either of his two opponents.
Rubio’s promise means that the left will target him and the right will lionize him. On Election Night, as Rubio spoke in front of an array of American and Florida flags, Arianna Huffington tweeted that political strategist Matthew Dowd thought Rubio looked “like a Central American dictator.” Three days later, the Republican party chose Rubio to deliver its weekly address to the nation.
“Marco Rubio is a natural leader and is likely to be a leader of our party,” says DeMint. “In five years, no one will remember Jim DeMint, and Marco will be president.”
[Definitely read the whole thing]
Jim DeMint obviously has MUCH better instincts than John Cornyn and the rest of the RINO-establishment embiciles at the NRSC. If the GOP had learned its lesson, they would be making DeMint the next NRSC Chairman, rather than giving the underperforming Cornyn another shot at the role.
Previous Pro Ecclesia posts on this subject:
All the Proof You Need That the GOP Did NOT Get the Message ...
Is Marco Rubio Still Catholic?
"Party Unity" is Only for Wing Nuts (Suckers)
The Archbold Boys Go Off on the GOP [UPDATED]
John Cornyn and the Rest of the Idiots at the NRSC Will Never Learn, Will They?
The "Stupid Party" is All the More Stupid for Having John Cornyn Among Its Ranks
Rubio Leads Crist in Florida
Pro-Life Catholic Rubio Pulls Even With Crist in Florida Senate Race
NY-23 a Test Case for 2010 Florida Senate Race [UPDATED]