Just when Marco Rubio thought he was out, his fellow Senate Republicans might pull him back in.
CNN reports that the first-term Florida lawmaker, who opted to run for the GOP presidential nomination rather than seek re-election, is under serious pressure to change his mind and enter the Sunshine State’s crowded Republican Senate primary before the June 24 deadline.
"It's obviously a very personal decision, but I think it would be good for the party, it would be good for the Senate — I'd like to see him do it," Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, told CNN. "I hear a lot of buzz around here from members and others; that's a conversation we need to have."
The “Draft Rubio” boomlet is spurred in large part by worries that the open Senate seat could flip to Democrats in November. Five Republicans are running to succeed Rubio, though polling indicates none of them possess the star power to win in state-wide race in a presidential election year. President Obama carried Florida in both the 2008 and 2012 elections.
Democrats, meanwhile, have mostly coalesced around Rep. Patrick Murphy; however, polling shows he faces a stiff challenge in the primary from fellow congressman Alan Grayson.
Rubio fever has climbed so high in recent days that presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump — who engaged Rubio in some of the nastiest back-and-forth attacks of the contentious primary, labeling him “Little Marco” in the final weeks before the Florida lawmaker suspended his campaign — took to Twitter to encourage his former rival to run.
Poll data shows that @marcorubio does by far the best in holding onto his Senate seat in Florida. Important to keep the MAJORITY. Run Marco!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2016
And what does Rubio think of all this?
Well, he told Politico that he is “unlikely” to run again — a choice of words that doesn’t shut the door completely.
"I didn't think it was fair for me to run for president and freeze that seat in a competitive state. So, I made my decision," Rubio told reporters on Thursday afternoon. "I don't have anything new to say from what I said in the past.... I made that decision and I've lived by that decision. Nothing's changed."
Of course, a lot can still change in a month and if Republican elders truly believe that the control of the Senate is at stake — thanks, in part, to having Trump at the top of the ticket — they could make a deal, potentially even agreeing to support the 44-year-old Rubio if, or when, he runs for president in 2020. After all, lack of unified establishment support is part of what led Rubio and other GOP hopefuls with government experience to get bulldozed by Trump in the Republican primary.
Even if he does change his mind, Rubio isn’t a shoe-in to retain his Senate seat. He came out of the GOP primary badly damaged and faced attacks that he was basically an absentee senator throughout his first term and that he can be so scripted on the campaign trail that he’s almost robotic — a charge that Rubio recently admitted helped sink his Oval Office aspirations.
For now, though, Rubio seems content to lend his support to Trump, who beat him by almost 20 points in Florida’s primary and who he once labeled a “con man.”
On Thursday, Rubio said in a CNN interview with Jake Tapper that, if asked, he would speak on Trump's behalf at the Republican National Convention in July.
"Certainly, yeah. I want to be helpful," Rubio said. "I don't want to be harmful because I don't want Hillary Clinton to be president. My policy difference with Donald Trump — I've spent a lot of months talking about them, so I think they're understood.”
Rubio’s comments and Trump’s tweet give off the faintest signal of coordination, or quid pro quo, that might indicate the first-term lawmaker is closer to changing his mind than he lets on.