Rubio's name rises toward top of Trump's VP shortlist

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In 2016, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) made headlines for sparring with Donald Trump, then his opponent in the race for the GOP nomination for president. Eight years later, he’s in a prime position to be Trump’s running mate.

Rubio has been a close and loyal supporter of Trump since the former president’s inauguration in 2017, regularly defending him against criticisms from Democrats and amid the various legal challenges Trump is facing. Although he has said he has not directly heard from Trump about the possibility, Rubio has reportedly been near the top of the shortlist Trump is considering.

Strategists said Rubio’s background, experience as a legislator and skills as a political candidate would make him a strong candidate to widen the ticket’s appeal.

“I happen to think that he’s the candidate the Biden campaign probably fears the most,” said Florida-based Republican strategist Justin Sayfie. “Of all the people that President Trump can pick to be his running mate, I think that the Biden campaign probably would not like to see Marco Rubio on the ticket.”

Rubio, 53, is among the youngest candidates on Trump’s short list. He was first elected to the Senate in 2010 with support from the Tea Party faction of the GOP after serving almost a decade in the Florida state House. He was seen as a rising star in the party and perhaps the future face of the GOP ahead of his presidential run in 2016.

Though only in his mid-40s at the time, Rubio had strong speaking skills and was expected to have appeal to racial minorities as a Latino American whose parents were originally from Cuba. But he was unable to keep up with Trump in the primaries despite winning a few states and dropped out soon after Super Tuesday.

During the campaign, attacks between Trump and Rubio turned personal at times, with Trump memorably deriding him as “little Marco” and Rubio calling Trump a “con artist.” But Rubio endorsed Trump as the Republican nominee and has been a relatively consistent backer ever since.

One former aide to Rubio noted that those testy interactions took place a while ago now, and Rubio worked with the Trump administration on a wide variety of “substantive” issues, including the Paycheck Protection Program to support small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. They said Rubio also worked with Trump on foreign policy.

“People used to joke during the Trump administration that Marco’s side-gig was being the State Department’s coordinator for the Western hemisphere,” the former aide said.

“He’s a very talented communicator, does a great job carrying the message and is well-liked by Trump. Obviously, I think it could be hugely helpful to the Hispanic vote, which could be decisive,” they said.

NBC reported in March that Rubio was moving up the list of potential choices, according to multiple people familiar with Trump’s selection process.

Rubio said in response to that report that he had not spoken to anyone in Trump’s orbit about the possibility, but “I think anybody who would be offered that should be honored.”

More recently, Rubio was among a group of Republicans rumored to be on Trump’s short list who visited him at Mar-a-Lago at a private lunch event seen as an audition for possible running mates. Others apparently under consideration in attendance were Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R).

And Rubio has been one of a few contenders who have appeared on political talk shows defending Trump while he has been occupied with his New York trial.

Rubio’s office declined an interview for this story.

GOP strategist Jason Cabel Roe said Rubio has a “compelling” personal backstory and knows how to communicate well.

“And he’s respected on Capitol Hill and could be an effective advocate for his agenda in Congress when Trump wins,” he said.

Rubio’s parents fled Cuba in the late 1950s during the rule of military dictator Fulgencio Batista, just a couple years before Fidel Castro took power in the Cuban Revolution. His biography on his Senate website notes that his grandfather, who was still in the country at the time of the revolution, made him interested in serving in public office.

The biography states that Rubio’s father mostly worked as a banquet bartender and his mother took care of his family while working as a hotel maid and briefly a factory worker.

“He has a classic American story of being the child of immigrants and rising into one of the most powerful positions in our government,” Sayfie said.

One obstacle that would need to be addressed if Trump chooses Rubio is the Constitution’s restriction on presidential and vice-presidential candidate residing in the same state. The 12th Amendment prohibits electors from casting a ballot for two individuals from the same state as them, so if Rubio is chosen, at least one of them would likely need to change their residence to be qualified for the ballot in Florida.

This happened relatively recently when Dick Cheney changed his registration from Texas to Wyoming in 2000 to serve as the running mate for George W. Bush, who was the governor of Texas.

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell, also based in Florida, said he doesn’t expect Trump to take a chance in a race that will be decided by “inches” if a way to satisfy constitutional requirements is not clear, but “if they can find a workaround that is plausible for both, he is certainly in the conversation.”

He said Rubio appears to be clearly interested in the position, pointing to the interview he gave on “Meet the Press” last month in which he wrangled with Kristen Welker over accepting the results of the 2024 election.

“It wasn’t too long ago that Marco Rubio was considered the future of the Republican Party, and as such, he has access to a robust fundraising network,” O’Connell said, comparing the power of his fundraising network to that of Burgum’s vast personal wealth.

And from an electoral standpoint, Rubio could fit the profile of who Trump needs to get him over the threshold of 270 electoral votes. If chosen, Rubio would be the first Latino to serve on a major party ticket.

Hispanics and Latinos are key constituencies in the battleground states of Arizona and Nevada, and Trump has been seeking to make a play for these voters to at least further close the gap that President Biden and other Democrats have had with them for years.

O’Connell said Rubio is the only choice under consideration who was also considered in 2016.

He added that if the election goes well for the GOP, the Senate will likely be closely divided, and someone who has served as a senator will be needed for the vice president’s role as president of the Senate, especially with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) soon to leave his role.

Analysts agreed that despite Rubio and several other potential choices avoiding a direct answer on the possibility of serving, the race is on for the job and he’s in it.

“The first thing about Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club,” O’Connell said, referencing the popular movie. “They have not decided who is going to be, but everyone knows that they’re auditioning.”

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