One of my favorite short stories is Tolstoy’s classic, “How Much Land Does a Man Need?“ In it, Tolstoy introduces us to Pahom, an ordinary Russian with extraordinary ambitions who wants to own vastly more land.
Satan arranges for Pahom to meet a landowning rural family, the Bashkirs, who make the striving Pahom a remarkable offer: Pahom can walk across their vast holdings with a shovel and mark the territory he wishes to own, and if he makes it back to the starting point by sunset to complete the circle, he will own everything within the boundary he marked.
Pahom begins the task buoyed by his boundless greed, and by late afternoon he finds himself far from the starting point. So, he runs to the starting point to beat the setting sun, but he arrives exhausted and breathless and dies on the spot where he began. Later, Pahom is buried in a grave six feet long, and we learn at last how much land a man needs.
Marco Rubio seems obsessed with size of Donald Trump’s hands, but like Tolstoy’s Pahom, Florida’s junior Senator could better spend his time pondering the wages of blind ambition. For two years, Rubio has harbored a gross miscalculation; that is, that there is no downside for him running for president. His belief was that even if he lost the primary or general election, he will have exposed the Rubio brand to donors, voters, and the media on a national stage, and that exposure alone is worth the risk of losing. But, here he is wrong, for to be exposed as a treacherous callow loser is a powerfully negative thing, and to fail to win your own state amplifies the effect even more.
By the time Rubio arrives at sundown at the place where he started, he risks not only losing this race but all future races.
Why do I say treacherous and callow? Treacherous, because Rubio has that lean and hungry look that drives him to turn without compunction on those who fostered his career. For almost a decade Jeb Bush was instrumental in creating a Golden Era for Republicans in Florida in which conservative programs and ideas could quickly take root and grow. Bush catalyzed nothing short of a revolution in state government where all the big pieces – education, healthcare, criminal justice, tax policy, social services — were re-imagined and branded with a conservative, forward-thinking Republican stamp.
Rubio was one of the many beneficiaries of the success of these programs that allowed him to receive accolades for, frankly, victories not of his making. One would think that given this boost from Bush and the personal interest Bush took in advancing Rubio’s credibility and career, Rubio might have paused before deciding to challenge his ostensible friend and political godfather.
Callow, because Rubio is too naïve and immature to realize that there is a high price to be paid for treachery and failure. Although Bush is now out of the race, Bush’s powerful friends and supporters are not out of Florida. One of the most remarkable but least discussed aspects of this cycle has been how little support Rubio has received from the colleagues who worked with him shoulder to shoulder in the Florida legislature. It is profoundly revealing and would be to a normal person a cause for intense self-examination. (Alas, Rubio is not a normal person.) In fact, it shows that for decades to come it will be the Bush crowd, and not the Rubio gang, that will be making the business and political decisions that guide the economy and political power structure of the Sunshine State. Many of them have remarked to me that they will never forgive Marco for his heedless ambition.
And, Rubio is likely to soon learn the price of high-profile failure in his home state of Florida. Bush had the smarts to get out why the getting was good, but Rubio seems determined to ride out this race until he has proven to everyone’s satisfaction that he can be defeated in Florida by the short-fingered vulgarian, Donald Trump. In the process, he has lowered himself to Trump’s level with penis jokes and spray-tan putdowns; the sort of sophomoric and un-presidential banter that that will remain in the minds of voters long after Rubio has skipped off the public stage in his high-heel boots.
As a side note, I assume nobody is more pleased with Rubio’s suspension of reality than Adam Putnam who one day might have to post up against Rubio in a gubernatorial primary. If Rubio loses in Florida on March 15th, Putnam is given a powerful narrative to discount Rubio as a gubernatorial candidate going into the next election cycle.
If Rubio were smart, humble, or merely had the instinct for self-preservation found in the average rodent he would get out of the race before the virtually inevitable failure he faces on his home turf in 13 days. He is behind Trump in every Florida poll (wildly in some cases), and in the deeply conservative Panhandle he is behind both Trump and Cruz. Unless lightning strikes, Rubi is going to lose, and he’s going to lose big. And the losing doesn’t end after that ignominious failure.
It’s only beginning at that point. Unless he starts playing it smart, despite his remorseless striving Rubio’s political career will get at a very young age what most of us hope to delay for many decades: six feet of dirt and no more.