As Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) reportedly looks to get back in the political ring and defend his Senate seat, he will face-off against a familiar enemy: Trumpmentum and an appetite for an outsider back home.
The political climate that sunk the Florida senator’s presidential ambitions in March hasn’t gone away in the Sunshine state. It’s only taken on a new face. After suffering a crushing double-digit defeat to Donald Trump on his home turf in the Florida presidential primary, Rubio will have to contend with another outsider, bomb-throwing businessman who is readying to pounce on Rubio’s immigration record. This time his name is Carlos Beruff.
“Rubio is going to have some challenges to overcome. Carlos Beruff, who is a Trump knock-off, is one of them,” Mac Stipanovich, a Florida-based Republican strategist told TPM. “Marco will be facing a Mini-me of the guy he lost to badly not too long ago.”
As some of Rubio’s would-be competitors clear the way for the sitting senator to jump into the race, Beruff is digging in and doubling down on the bombastic Trump-esque rhetoric that doomed Rubio three months ago. Beruff’s campaign spokesman told TPM the camapign is readying for a primary election targeting Rubio’s close ties to Washington, insider support and one-time support of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
“The same issues that derailed Rubio’s presidential campaign and caused him to be rejected by Republican Primary voters in Florida a few months ago are still top of mind, the Gang of 8 approach to immigration, the missed votes etc,” according to a memo to supporters issued last week by the Beruff campaign. “But this time, it would be worse because now he’s Washington’s candidate.”
In fact, Rubio may jump into the race as the establishment favorite with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and party donors egging him on just like the party establishment backed Charlie Crist in 2010 when Rubio became the insurgent.
On Monday–with just days left for Rubio to declare his candidacy–the Beruff campaign gave a little preview of what Rubio will face if he gets into the race.
“The most important question for Marco Rubio to think about today as he decides whether to run for reelection: Are you willing to look the voters of Florida in the eye and commit to serving out an entire 6-year term in the U.S. Senate? Do you commit to not running for President in 2020? Do you pledge to truly serve the people of Florida by showing up to work and not missing votes or committee hearings?” Beruff’s spokesman, Chris Hartline said in a released statement.
Since entering the race in February, Beruff–a multimillionaire who has never held elected office–has attempted to harness the same off-handed anti-immigrant, anti-establishment sentiment that propelled Trump to victory. He’s given hints that he’ll take a page out of Trump’s playbook against Rubio and attack Rubio’s Senate attendance record as well as go after his ties to D.C.
When it comes to policy, Beruff has also tried to track close to Trump. He’s called for a ban on immigrants from Middle Eastern countries (with the exception of Israel). And as the son of Cuban immigrants, Beruff released a television ad this week declaring he doesn’t believe in “hyphenated Americans,” a nod to Trump’s screeds against political correctness.
Beruff has even had his own controversial statements to defend. Earlier this year, Beruff called Obama “an animal.”
“Unfortunately, for seven and a half years this animal we call president, because he’s an animal, OK,” Beruff said according to a video flagged by the Huffington Post. For “seven and a half years, has surgically and with thought and very smart, intelligent manner, destroyed this country and dismantled the military under not one, not two, but three secretary of defenses.”
Beruff entered the race late, but has been aggressively advertising. The wealthy real estate developer has already spent more than $3 million –most of it his own money, according to the Miami Herald– on television ads and has said he will continue to invest in the race In three months. He’s gone from a long-shot candidate, to leading the pack, according to a Mason-Dixon poll of likely voters released in early June. Rubio’s name was not polled, and 49 percent of respondents were undecided.
The field to succeed Rubio had been wide open, with two congressmen and the lieutenant governor among the most prominent contenders. The primary is Aug. 30. Rep. David Jolly withdrew from the race last week when Rubio’s re-entry appeared imminent.
Rep. David Jolly withdrew from the Senate race last week.
Rep. Ron DeSantis has said he wants Rubio to decide soon what he will do and that Rubio’s decision “changes a lot about how I look at the race.”
If Rubio run’s for re-election. Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera has said he will step aside.
If Rubio does decide to seek re-election, he’ll once again be forced to contend with an unpredictable and self-financing challenger who may force him to the right in the primary – a potentially devastating mistake that could damage his chances in the general election.
“It will be interesting to see how deftly Marco can handle all this if he runs,” Stipanovich said. “He is going to have to walk a narrow path between a rock and a hard place. If he is not for deporting 12 million men, women, and children, he will have greater difficulties in the primary. If he is for deporting 12 million men, women and children, he will have a hard time in the general.“
Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a friend of Rubio’s, says he bow out if Rubio wants to run again for the Senate.
Against Trump, Rubio stumbled and struggled to remain consistent. His involvement in the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform bill became a liability as Trump promised to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. And despite Rubio’s initial attempts to ignore Trump, as his home state primary drew closer and polls showed him lagging behind, Rubio resorted to the same kind of crude, personal attacks Trump had deployed against him.
“He doesn’t sweat because his pores are clogged from the spray tan that he used. Donald is not going to make America great, he is going to make America orange,” Rubio said at a campaign rally in the final days of his campaign. “He’s always calling me Little Marco and I’ll admit he’s taller than me. He’s like 6′ 2″. Which is why I don’t understand why his hands are the size of someone who’s 5 ‘2”.
Rubio later said he regretted his gutter attacks. But since, Rubio has struggled with how to deal with the party’s presumptive nominee. He once called Trump a “con man,” but then offered to speak on Trump’s behalf at the convention, something he later clarified was not an official endorsement.
Rep. Ron DeSantis has said he will reconsider his options if Rubio re-enters the race.
Rubio won’t have long to decide exactly where he stands on Trump because he may be re-litigating his race against him back home in Florida if he faces off against Beruff.
“Many reporters and pundits appear to be living in a parallel universe, as they claim that Rubio will be hard to beat. Really?,” the Beruff campaign memo reads. “He just got demolished three months ago by the same jury he would face on August 30. This may be expensive, but it’s not hard.”