A single biographical fact stood out the night Marco Rubio departed the Republican presidential race: his age.
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He’s 44 years old. Or, as his supporters put it: He’s only 44 years old.
In other words, Florida voters probably haven’t seen the last of him.
The worst time to ask about a has-been candidate about his would-be future is right after — or right before — his or her loss.
“I have no problem becoming a private citizen and moving on to other endeavors, to be successful at other things,” Rubio told the Miami Herald in an interview on Monday, on what ended up being his presidential candidacy’s next-to-last day. “I’ve not given much thought to it yet, but things outside of politics.”
When he bid his campaign farewell Tuesday night, though, Rubio made clear he might return.
“It is not God’s plan that I be president in 2016 — or maybe ever,” Rubio said. Emphasis on “maybe.”
It is not God’s plan that I be president in 2016 — or maybe ever.
It’s difficult to see Rubio abandoning politics entirely — not only because of his youth, but because it’s where he’s spent almost all his career. He was 26 when he won a West Miami City Commission seat in 1998.
An attorney by training, Rubio worked only briefly in land-use law. He has taught politics at Florida International University, a job he said he enjoyed. But he could make much more money in some sort of government consulting or lobbying role.
For now, Rubio plans to finish his U.S. Senate term. Never thrilled with the chamber, he chose not to seek reelection (though technically he still could). The next big Florida position he could vie for is the Florida governorship, which comes open in 2018.
That’s the path political insiders predicted for Rubio when he began running for president. He’d spend a few months getting national exposure and then leave the race with dignity, setting himself up to succeed Gov. Rick Scott after a couple of years in the private sector.
But Rubio stayed in the race far longer than some of those people expected. Tuesday night, he lost his home state to Donald Trump in embarrassing fashion, by 19 percentage points. The only consolation: At least Texas Sen. Ted Cruz didn’t best Rubio, as a few last-minute public polls had suggested.
“It’s hard to turn around and say, ‘I’m going to run for governor,’” said former state Sen. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat who served with Rubio in the Florida Legislature. “This kind of loss can stay raw for a bit.”
This kind of loss can stay raw for a bit.
Dan Gelber, former state senator
After taking on national issues, Rubio seems unlikely to return to the state Capitol. He’d probably also be reluctant to move his wife and kids — who never moved to Washington — to Tallahassee. And running for governor would likely lead to a hard-fought primary with Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who’s spent years laying the groundwork for a possible campaign. (Putnam endorsed Jeb Bush for president and then switched to Rubio after Bush’s exit.)
The idea that Rubio’s political career might be over, though?
“It’s Florida!” Gelber said. “Florida is the land of second and third lives. People come here for that reason. We have a governor who escaped indictment, OK, to win not only election but reelection. This is not exactly the place that holds things against you.”
Nothing Rubio did as a presidential contender disqualified him from politics, Gelber added — even “sophomoric” insults aimed at Trump. Florida’s transient population makes it difficult for politicians to hold on to an identity for very long, as Bush learned.
“In Florida, after five or 10 years, half the population is new,” Gelber said.
Adam Hasner, a former Florida House Majority Leader who co-chaired Rubio’s state campaign, guessed his friend would be back in the public eye.
“He’s going to find ways to be engaged and to contribute to the dialogue about the future of this country for a long time,” he said. “Give him some time to catch his breath and spend time with Jeanette, with the kids.
“Marco Rubio’s a very special person. He’s going to be able to have his imprint on the future.”
Another longtime Rubio friend, former U.S. Rep. David Rivera, put it more succinctly Tuesday night when he walked into Versailles Cuban restaurant, where some Rubio backers were finishing a late dinner.
“Rubio 2020,” he said.