By Craig Robinson
Before we even knew the 2012 election results from Florida, beltway reporters were already busy assembling lists of potential 2016 presidential candidates and watching their every move. The person garnering the most attention is Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who is Iowa-bound on Saturday to speak at Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s birthday bash.
It’s only appropriate that Rubio’s post 2012 visit to Iowa will happen at a place named Adventureland. After serving only two years in the United States Senate, Rubio is dipping his toe into Iowa’s presidential waters whether he likes it or not. Being one of the more high-profile Republicans in the country, every move that Rubio makes will be scrutinized. Showing up in places like Iowa or New Hampshire will cause sirens to go off and the press to grab a flight to Des Moines.
The attention being given to Rubio’s brief trip to Iowa is understandable, but those who think that it is a sign that the Florida Senator is about to begin making preparations for a presidential campaign are likely to be disappointed. I’m not about to exclude Rubio from the 2016 discussion, but here are some of the reasons I’m skeptical.
Governor Branstad announced that Rubio would be attending his birthday fundraiser two days after the election. If you really believe that all of those arrangements were made the day following the election, you are being foolish. Rubio’s attendance at this event was probably confirmed long before he knew that Mitt Romney wasn’t going to be the next President of the United States.
Why does that matter? Because it means that Rubio’s decision to come to Iowa on November 17th has absolutely nothing to do with his presidential ambitions. The conspiracy theorist may conclude that Rubio was somehow hoping that Romney would lose so he could be the first to return to Iowa to put his marker down, but I don’t buy that.
Sometimes pundits like to read too much into things like this. If you want an idea of how Rubio was invited to attend the event, just look at Governor Branstad. Branstad likely pulled him aside at a Romney event and asked for a favor. As the wise old sage of Iowa politics, it’s hard to refuse the governor’s request. Best-case scenario for Rubio was that Romney wins and he can celebrate with Iowans. Worse case scenario, he secures a place for himself in the 2016 discussion.
What Rubio Says Matters More Than Where He Goes
Someone’s mere presence in the state of Iowa doesn’t make him or her a potential presidential candidate. Need proof? Just ask Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee who made numerous trips to Iowa in 2010 and 2011. George Allen was the featured breakfast speaker at the 2006 Republican Party of Iowa State Convention. That was before most Americans where introduced to the word, “macaca.”
If you want to figure out who is serious about 2016 you need to focus on what they say, not necessarily where they say it. Palin and Huckabee were busy selling books. Huckabee also showed up to help his friend and 2008-caucus advisor Bob Vander Plaats with his political campaign and Family Leader events. Each spent time speaking to Iowans about the issues the country was facing, but they were not laying out a case as to why they were the ones who can best fix them.
I expect Rubio to speak about the future of the Republican Party on Saturday night, but I highly doubt he is going to lay a foundation on which he can run for president. Like many, I’m intrigued by what Senator Rubio will say on Saturday night, but I’m not expecting a speech about his credentials or even his vision for America.
If you are looking for an example of someone who is talking 2016 candidate, check out Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. He combed through Iowa with Rick Perry before the caucuses and then again as a Romney surrogate this fall. Now he’s speaking his mind. Watch him.
Rubio Has a Big Decision to Make
Having been elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, Marco Rubio is going to be forced to make a decision between running for re-election and running for President. Rubio doesn’t need to make that decision now, but he will need to make it immediately following the 2014 mid-term elections. There is also risk in looking too much like a presidential candidate in waiting to the people back home. A delicate balance between exploring national options and representing your state is always difficult to achieve.
What the Media Should Be Talking About but Are Ignoring
While the media focuses on Marco Rubio, they are ignoring a more significant political story. Governor Branstad looks very much like a governor who’s running for re-election. A formal announcement is probably still months away, but in the last two months, Branstad has held fundraisers for himself with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and now Rubio. Branstad running for re-election has never been a sure bet, but if he does, it’s a good thing for Iowa Republicans.
Rubio’s visit to Iowa on Saturday night is a good thing for Iowa Republicans. He’s an up and coming leader in the Republican Party that people are right to be excited about. If anything, Rubio will help Iowans move past a disappointing election that most Republicans didn’t see coming. As a presidential candidate, Rubio might be a tease, but for now, he is serving as our rebound date following our relationship with Mitt Romney that we would like to forget.
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