Mitt Romney might not be running in 2016 but that doesnt help Marco Rubio if he decides to run for the Republican presidential nomination.
Rubio is keeping trial balloons afloat, ensuring his name remains in the mix for 2016. But Romney removing himself from the table only strengthens Jeb Bushs hand. Rubio can make all the Sunday morning talk-show rounds and book tour stops he wants but Bush continues to eclipse him in the presidential race.
Bush has to stumble badly for Rubio to enter the race with a reasonable chance of winning the nomination. Thats certainly possible. As plenty of pundits are pointing out, Bush hasnt run for office since 2002 and he has more than his share of opponents within the GOP fold.
But, unless Bush is out, Rubio is seen as stand-by material. With Romney out and Chris Christie playing badly with plenty of Republicans, Rubio makes sense as a backup plan for the GOP establishment, though there are plenty of others auditioning for the same role. Bushs exit would nudge plenty of Florida Republican activists and donors over to Rubio.
Even with all that being the case, Rubio is kind of in the same position he was in 2012: more a contender for the vice presidency than the presidency. Rubio brings quite a bit to the table if someone like Scott Walker or Christie ends up with the nomination. He is Hispanic and can help round up some votes of that growing population. Unlike Paul Ryan, Rubio has actually won statewide office in a battleground state. And, if Bush goes down, adding Rubio to the ticket would be a sort of consolation prize to the former Florida governors backers.
Rubio is probably more palpable than other Republicans to conservatives. Hell never be their top candidate, not after his role on immigration reform. But Rubio hasnt drifted off on other issues the way Chrisite has and isnt as connected to Common Core as Bush is. Still, that is more a recipe for a vice presidential candidate than a contender for the White House.
The Senate is now in Republican hands and the GOP wants to ensure that it stays that way. Look for pressure to mount on Rubio to run for a second term -- which most Florida Republicans want him to do anyway -- than campaign for the presidency. That pressure will only build as the names of moderate Democrats like Patrick Murphy and Gwen Graham continue to be kicked around.
Still, theres no harm done in Rubio going through the motions of running for president. He is only 43 and will have chances down the road. A little attention is not a bad thing for down the road -- whether in 2016 as a vice presidential hopeful or defending his Senate seat, in 2018 for a gubernatorial campaign or future presidential elections.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.