Six years ago, Marco Rubio was an upstart political talent with a far-fetched dream of upending the Florida GOP establishment by taking out former Gov. Charlie Crist for the party’s Senate nod.
When he won, the boyish for speaker of the Florida House went from a little-known political underdog to national political star. Since then, he’s spent some time as seemingly every modern political archetype under the sun.
His journey from Underdog to Conquering Hero made him an electrifying, grassroots Tea Party fairy tale. His Senate seat and political future were counted among the most prominent feathers in the movement’s tricorn hat.
Upon attempting immigration reform, however, he ran through a couple more archetypes–Too-Big-For-His-Britches Whippersnapper and Naive Tool of the Establishment, settling for a while on Beltway RINO with a Hankering for Cocktail Party Approbation.
Nonetheless, he was young, Latino, a gifted speaker, fluent in Spanish and social graces, with a enough wit and knowledge that he promised to make a formidable member of the heralded deep bench of 2016 GOP candidates. He must have thought so, too. Rubio decided to run for president and not for reelection to his Senate seat.
He wasn’t shy about saying he wasn’t fond of the Senate back then. Frustrated by its pace and bipartisan rejection of several of his measures, Rubio pitched his absenteeism from the body as part of a larger effort to change the stakes. He told The Washington Post:
“‘My ambitions aren’t for me. My ambitions are for the country, and Florida.’ If he is elected to the White House, he added, ‘we can begin to fix some of these issues that I’ve been so frustrated we’ve been unable to address during my time in the Senate.’”
Add Abseentee Lawmaker, a favorite jab of Rubio’s primary opponent and fellow Floridian, Jeb Bush, and Leave It All on the Field Presidential Candidate to the mix.
In the eyes of many, he was the Party’s Savior and the Face of a New Generation in the GOP. He was also going to be a Young Leader with an Innovative Campaign, which consisted of a smaller footprint. That small footprint was later crushed by one big foot, as Donald Trump took the airtime Rubio had counted on, and voters revealed that an inheritor of the suite of policies inspired by George W. Bush (and including his own infamous small footprint policy in Iraq) was not what they were looking for.
As the campaign wore on, Rubio was the Way too Disciplined Candidate. This cautious rigidity led Rubio to become Giant Public Meltdown Candidate thanks to three minutes on a stage in New Hampshire, where Rubio repeated the same talking point over and over when badgered by Gov. Chris Christie.
Rubio’s South Carolina second-place finish was better than expected, making him a kinda-sorta Comeback Kid. When Robot Rubio was retired, he became the Don Rickles Candidate, which led the same people who told him he was too buttoned up to be ostentatiously appalled he no longer was.
But it later became apparent Rubio was just Candidate Without a Win and Likable Guy Without a Natural Constituency. To be fair, those roles were played by Joe Biden back when he was still running for president, and he’s done pretty well for himself.
Finally, in Florida, Rubio was Giant Hometurf Disaster Candidate and Tearful, Reflective Exit Guy. He was briefly Spend More Time With My Family Guy and Weird on Twitter Candidate, and pondered becoming Cash Out and Lobby Guy but has now pivoted to Jaded Hold Onto Power Public Servant.
This week, Rubio changed his mind after talking to party leaders and a friend who was running for his seat, and decided to run for reelection to the Senate, giving the GOP a much better shot of holding the seat than it would have had without him.
He’s back where he started with a promising but slightly unorthodox and unexpected run for the Florida Senate seat. Although his name recognition and fundraising abilities put him at the top of the heap, he has lost significant prep time for an election.
The question is: will he be the Comeback Kid or the Giant Hometurf Disaster this time around? He’s got experience with both.