Thursday, September 20, 2018
Opinion

Ingram: Republicans don't trust Marco Rubio

Despite claims he would not run for re-election to the U.S. Senate, Marco Rubio is now running for re-election.

This should come as no surprise. Last year, the field of Florida GOP "A-listers" (such as Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Sarasota, and former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford) who normally would have jumped at the chance to run for an open U.S. Senate seat all said "no thanks.'' Even perennial losing candidate Bill McCollum, the former state attorney general and member of Congress, took a pass.

Why?

Because they knew that Rubio's word is as worthless as a wet firecracker. They won't publicly say that for fear of offending someone they might need something from later. But people who know Rubio privately acknowledge he cannot be trusted.

In April 2015, I wrote in the Tampa Tribune, "A year from now Marco Rubio could qualify to run for re-election. As the incumbent, even after his ridiculous chase for the presidency, Rubio would be a formidable opponent and likely would win the GOP nomination."

I concluded that no one of any merit wanted to run because they didn't like the odds that Rubio would be true to his word. And they were right.

As a result, a bunch of second-string, junior varsity players decided they had nothing to lose and entered the race.

Then Rubio did his expected about-face, shamelessly using the tragedy in Orlando as a convenient excuse to run again. He suggested the Senate is now his calling because America needs him, although apparently we didn't need him as he was skipping votes during the presidential run. Following his announcement that he would run again, most of the JV squad withdrew.

In reality, Rubio needs the U.S. Senate a lot more than Floridians need him keeping the seat warm for someone of more substance. After all, most voters cannot name a single legislative accomplishment of Rubio's over the last 5½ years.

Can you?

Voters do remember that Rubio has the worst attendance record of any current member of the Senate.

They may recall that last year, a close associate of the senator's said Rubio "hates" being a senator. Rubio didn't deny the charge at the time, telling the Washington Post, "I don't know that 'hate' is the right word. I'm frustrated."

Poor little Marco.

Nearly all are aware that the one-term senator and former state House speaker received just 27 percent of the vote in the Florida Republican presidential primary.

And of course, let's not forget all of his ethical problems and challenges knowing right from wrong (when not to use a Republican Party of Florida American Express card); his juvenile behavior referring to the size of Donald Trump's hands; his "deer in the headlights'' look at the debate; and his programmed responses to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie when Christie challenged him about being an empty suit.

One Senate Republican primary candidate is not scared of Rubio or his backing by the GOP elites in Washington: Carlos Beruff, a Bradenton homebuilder.

A recent poll puts Befuff behind Rubio, 73 percent to 6 percent. But Beruff is not deterred, and history may be on his side. Rubio once faced seemingly insurmountable poll numbers against Gov. Charlie Crist in the 2010 U.S. Senate race before the tides changed and Crist was forced to abandon the GOP.

Rubio's situation is more enviable than Crist's was, but he remains an extremely flawed candidate — despite the party boss' encouragement that he is GOP's best candidate to retain the seat. After all, one can simultaneously be the best candidate and a terrible one.

Recall that Rubio was elected as something of a nontraditional candidate (despite a career in politics with little accomplishment) who was enthusiastically backed by tea party conservatives. Those supporters expected him to be their poster child for a new kind of Washington. But Rubio, an astute political game player, shuffled his cards on key issues dear to the tea party crowd, and they most certainly have not forgotten his deceit.

Such betrayal is what catapulted Trump to become the Republican Party's presumptive presidential nominee. If Beruff can successfully remind voters what a typical, ladder-climbing career politician Rubio is, he might just have a shot at winning the party's nomination.

What happens in November is an entirely different story, and that's all the party bosses care about.

Chris Ingram is a columnist, Republican political consultant and political analyst for Bay News 9 based in Tampa.

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