Rubio Returns—Billionaires Rejoice?

by Eli Clifton

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s announcement on Wednesday that he would seek reelection to the Senate was a reversal of his prior pledge that he would not run. Rubio attributed his decision to the fact that losing his seat to a Democrat could cost the Republicans their control of the Senate.

But buried deeper in his statement on “why I’m running” is a nod to the hawkish foreign policy positions. Those positions may have helped secure much of his campaign funding in 2010, when he first ran for the Senate, as well as his failed presidential run earlier this year, and, presumably, his upcoming reelection campaign in Florida.

Rubio wrote:

Control of the Senate may very well come down to the race in Florida. That means the future of the Supreme Court will be determined by the Florida Senate seat. It means the future of the disastrous Iran nuclear deal will be determined by the Florida Senate seat. It means the direction of our country’s fiscal and economic policies will be determined by this Senate seat. The stakes for our nation could not be higher.

Rubio’s career in national politics has largely been defined by his opposition to the Obama administration’s normalization of relations with Cuba and the P5+1’s diplomatic efforts to constrain Iran’s nuclear program. In a 2014 article, for instance, National Review Washington editor Eliana Johnson hailed his neoconservative foreign policy views as “robust internationalist position closest to that of George W. Bush.”

Rubio tacked even further to the right when he launched his presidential bid last year. The freshman senator accused the White House of betraying “the commitment this nation has made to the right of a Jewish state to exist in peace,” cryptically adding that, “what this president and his administration are doing in Israel is a tragic mistake.” He also promised to “absolutely” revoke the Iran nuclear deal if elected president.

The Money Followed

That hawkishness attracted the support of some of the Republican Party’s deepest pocketed opponents of the White House’s efforts to constrain Iran’s nuclear program: billionaires Paul Singer and Sheldon Adelson.

Employees of Singer’s New York-based hedge fund, Elliott Management, were the second largest contributor to Rubio’s 2010 Senate campaign. And Singer himself contributed $5 million to a super PAC supporting Rubio’s failed presidential bid.

Sheldon Adelson, for his part, was widely seen to be favoring Rubio in the GOP primary race before Donald Trump triumphed over establishment and neoconservative candidates. The Adelson-owned Las Vegas Review Journal endorsed Rubio in the GOP primary battle and Adelson’s Israel Hayom, which serves a mouthpiece for the Israeli right, showered Rubio with effusive praise after his third-place finish in Iowa. Surprising many, Adelson eventually endorsed Donald Trump in May.

Adelson and Singer both sit on the board of the neoconservative Republican Jewish Coalition and give generously to a variety of groups opposing the White House’s diplomatic efforts to resolve tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.

But the two billionaires haven’t been on the same wavelength since Trump became the presumptive nominee. Adelson says that he’s willing to commit a sum that could exceed $100 million to support Trump’s campaign while Singer has said that he can’t support either Trump or Clinton.

Rubio, for his part, offered a qualified endorsement of Trump, saying that “the prospect of a Trump presidency is also worrisome to me.”

Rubio seemed poised to pursue his love of football and join the Miami Dolphins in an executive role before his abrupt turnaround, which must have coincided with a pledge of significant funds for his reelection campaign. He will require a large infusion of funding to compete in the Florida Senate race, a state in which he garnered a paltry 27% of the vote against Trump’s 45.7% in the March primary.

If Rubio secures his party’s nomination, and it seems almost certain he will run unopposed in the primary, he will likely face Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL), assuming Murphy wins his primary against Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL). A Quinnipiac poll released on Wednesday showed Rubio leading Murphy 47% to 40%.

J Street PAC, which is associated with the Democratic Party-aligned “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group, backs Murphy and jumped on Marco Rubio’s possible candidacy as a fundraising opportunity. “The Senate’s leading neocon is running for another Senate term,” said a J Street PAC fundraising email sent out on Wednesday. The email concluded, “Rush an emergency donation to Patrick Murphy and help us retire Marco Rubio.”

Where Rubio Turns

Back in September, before Trump’s domination of the GOP primary field, New York Magazine published an in-depth profile on Adelson, titled, “Sheldon Adelson Is Ready to Buy the Presidency.” The piece speculated as to which primary candidate the Las Vegas billionaire might endorse. Jason Zengerle wrote:

Marco Rubio reportedly phones Adelson every other week. “Rubio calls and says, ‘Hey, did you see this speech? Did you see my floor statement on Iran? What do you think I should do about this issue?’ says one person close to Adelson. “It’s impressive. Rubio is persistent.”

Rubio never secured Adelson’s endorsement. And Adelson, despite pledging to support Trump, probably didn’t get the presidential candidate he wanted.

But the freshman senator from Florida is likely on the phone again, hoping his persistence over the past year might pay out in a smaller manner. Perhaps he’s offering Adelson an opportunity to buy a senate race instead of the presidency.

Photo: Marco Rubio by Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.