Do you remember Sen. Marco Rubio – the guy running for president until last month? His Senate career is over at the end of the year. With politics dominating his adult life so far, how he handles his Act II – the private sector – will be critical if he decides to re-enter the fray in 2020 or later.
It’s likely big investment houses and law firms are trying to lure Rubio with 30th floor Miami office suites. He could be making six or seven figures for sitting in on meetings, lunching with clients, with his name on the firm’s letterhead. Sounds fabulous, doesn’t it? Maybe for his bank account, but not his political future.
If Hillary Clinton is our next president, Rubio will have four years to prepare for a run in 2020. But he won’t be the only one.
Recently, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan released a video outlining his ideas for America.
With its snappy, edgy editing, the video seems like a 2020 introductory campaign ad. Never mind that taxpayer dollars paid for it or its audience consisted of Capitol Hill interns (who reportedly were instructed to clap and do the wave).
Some say Ryan did it to capture the GOP nomination at July’s national convention, but I disagree. Ryan is using his speakership resources for shapeshifting: from a 2012 loser V.P. candidate to a strong early force in the 2020 primaries.
If Rubio’s Act II involves using the next two years to grab a big payday (using the second two for campaigning), he’ll be hidden in boardrooms, while Ryan rolls out more videos and constantly appears on Sunday morning chat shows and weeknight national newscasts.
Even if there’s a Republican in the White House next year, Ryan might not lower the heat. Ronald Reagan challenged President Ford in 1976 – which helped pave the way for Reagan’s 1980 nomination. If this is replayed in the next decade, what will be Rubio’s role? A reenergized primary candidate, or just another rich guy on the sidelines?
If Rubio wants to run in 2020 or later, he’ll have to resist the big money lure and reinvent himself – address his shortcomings, while keeping a national presence.
Instead of a sky-high office, Rubio should opt to teach at a Florida law school, where he can interact with smart young people with differing viewpoints, while sharpening his speaking and analytical skills.
Simultaneously, Rubio could adopt Warren Buffett’s lifestyle: live in an ordinary house near his workplace, and avoid fancy cars, vacation spots, and electronic gizmos. Rubio could drive his own car, shop at his local supermarket, and meaningfully support charitable programs.
“Meaningfully support” doesn’t mean headlining fundraising galas. Rather, it’s about evaluating charitable programs with great metrics and bringing one or more to Rubio’s neighborhood. He would earn street-cred with real people – in contrast to Speaker Ryan’s touch-me-not gated home in his safe congressional district.
Lastly, Rubio needs to act boldly on a national scale. Suggestion: Rubio announces and then carries out a plan to visit every Veterans Administration hospital in America. Would Clinton’s VA secretary or Speaker Ryan do this? Unlikely.
As a former Senator, Rubio would get access to the hospitals – where he could meet patients and see conditions first-hand (as an academic, he’d have time to do this). This would transform Rubio into a force for good with deeds, not words. (Bonus: he’d make local news headlines everywhere).
Rubio faces a tough Act II choice: if he goes for the gold, he risks sitting in his Jackson Hole ski lodge someday watching a Republican not named Rubio take the presidential oath of office. Or he could take a hard look in the mirror and fix his shortcomings from a life spent in the political bubble.
We’ll know the answer in January.
Joanne Butler was a professional staff member at the US House Ways & Means Committee; issues included trade and Social Security. In the Bush Administration's Labor Department, she was a senior advisor to an assistant secretary, handling a wide range of issues from speechwriting to program quality control. She has a graduate degree from the Kennedy School at Harvard University, with a concentration in economics and international finance.