In hindsight, it's almost ironic that during the 2010 Senate race, the Marco Rubio campaign and its surrogates attacked then-rival Charlie Crist for being too ambitious. Crist, they argued, was a professional politician of the worst kind who saw a Senate seat merely as a step to even higher ambitions.
Of course, Rubio won that seat, and only four years into his term, he announced his own presidential candidacy. Not only that, but he also promised there was no way he would drop out of the race and jump back to the Senate. (Rubio's term ends in 2016, and under Florida law he can't run for more than one office at a time, unlike in other states.) Earlier this year, sources close to the senator gossiped to the New York Times that not only was Rubio sort of bored and disenchanted with his work in the slow-moving Senate, but he also felt it didn't pay enough.
Rubio clearly was the one who didn't want to be a senator after all. The fact that he's missed more votes than any other senator bears that out. He rarely shows up to his actual job anymore. That trend began before he even announced his run for the White House, and a Sun Sentinel editorial calling for the increasingly no-show junior senator to resign in favor of someone who actually wanted to the job went viral.
Now, with Rubio sitting third in polls for the GOP nomination, perhaps we should ask another question: Does he even really want to be president?
Because this week is apparently the week the national political media all came to the same realization: Rubio doesn't seem to be running a very serious campaign and doesn't appear to like traditional campaigning.
"Republican activists — including many who appreciate Rubio’s formidable political gifts and view him as the party’s best hope for beating Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton — say they are alarmed at his seeming disdain for the day-to-day grind of retail politics," the Washington Post reports. "Even some staunch supporters are anxious."
"His rivals see such a retiring style as an opening to needle him for keeping a less-than-rigorous campaign schedule," the New York Times stated.
"In a place where retail politicking remains paramount, conservative and evangelical leaders are complaining that the Florida senator hasn’t given them enough attention since launching his White House campaign," the National Review reported earlier this month. "While he has begun to attend their events and engage with their constituents, they say his team has not followed up to deepen relationships or organize additional meetings with them."
The takeaway is that Rubio isn't spending nearly as much time campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire as many of his rivals, tends to answer fewer questions from voters at the campaign stops he does make, and is more hesitant about directly asking people for their vote. His field operations and voter outreach in Iowa and New Hampshire seem skeleton-like compared to those of many of his rivals. Instead, he's relying more on TV ads and internet outreach.
"The problem with that sort of campaign is that it isn’t one," Gawker wrote. "It’s simply not a strategy that a person who wants to be president would choose to achieve that goal."
For what it's worth, the Rubio campaign maintains it's taking a more national approach instead of focusing on early caucus and primary states — a somewhat odd and unprecedented strategy.
So Rubio is missing more votes in the Senate than his colleagues who are also running for president — Senators Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders — but apparently isn't doing as much campaigning either.
Which begs the question: What is Rubio doing, and what does he actually want to achieve?
We can't shake that Times reporting from June about Rubio's frustration with his job in the Senate:
The Senate has provided Mr. Rubio with a prestigious platform, to write books, travel the world, deliver speeches and, today, mount a run for the White House. But he has told friends that the job has imposed its own form of financial hardship, and he expressed occasional envy of colleagues in the private sector.
Mr. Rubio’s Senate salary of $174,000 is far less than he earned as a lawyer and consultant, and the Rubio family expenses are significant. All four of their children attend parochial school.
A failed presidential campaign would give Rubio quite an enviable exit from public life back into the private sector. He wouldn't face the embarrassment of being defeated for his Senate seat or an abrupt early retirement. He'd be viewed as a guy who ran a presidential campaign that just came up short and would have all the exposure and name recognition that came with it.
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He'd be free to make paid speeches, write more books, take a cushy corporate job, or perhaps land a sweet board-of-directors gig. Maybe he'd even make a lucrative foray into lobbying or take a well-paid gig as a Fox News contributor.
Rubio is not a rich man, but he'd be in a good position to become one if he finds himself suddenly with nothing to do.
Rubio told Florida he wanted to be a senator. He didn't.
So it's worth asking if he really wants to be president. Because if he does, he might want to put a bit more work into it.