Seizing the Electoral Moment: Former Allies Bush and Rubio Battle it Out

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was once a benefactor of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL). Bush donated to Rubio's first political campaign, and in 2005, when Rubio was sworn in as Florida's House Speaker, Bush gave Rubio a sword, informing Rubio: "I'm going to bestow to you the sword of a great conservative warrior" (referring to the mythical warrior Chang). When he ran in the Republican U.S. Senate primary in 2010, Rubio garnered the support of many of Bush's prominent fundraisers. Though Bush remained officially neutral, his son, Jeb Bush Jr., supported Rubio. The day Rubio won the General Election, Jeb Bush stood at the podium introducing him.

Today, the two Floridians are battling for support in the Republican Presidential primary. Some in the Florida political circuit thought Rubio would not run if Bush did, but in American politics, timing is everything, and Rubio, with his political star on the rise, saw this election as "his time." Now the gloves are coming off, and Bush is comparing Rubio to Barack Obama. Bush recently told CNN: "Look, we had a president who came in and said the same kind of thing -- new and improved, hope and change -- and he didn't have the leadership skills to fix things."

American politics is chock full of examples of former "mentees" running against their mentor, former ticket mates running against each other, employees running against their boss, and even brothers running against brothers.

In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt used his political influence to secure the Republican Presidential nomination for U.S. Secretary of War William Howard Taft over other Republicans, including Vice President Charles Fairbanks. However, after Taft was elected and assumed the Presidency, Roosevelt became disillusioned with Taft, believing he was too tethered to the conservative bloodline of the party and the moneyed interests. The progressive Roosevelt launched a bid against Taft for the 1912 Republican Presidential nomination. He told news reporters: "My hat's in the ring. The fight is on, and I'm stripped to the buff." Roosevelt was not above ad hominem attacks on Taft, quipping that his former ally is: "dumber than a guinea pig, a fathead." Taft in turn branded Roosevelt's supporters "destructive radicals and neurotics."

After losing the nomination to Taft, Roosevelt did not make amends by supporting his party's nominee. Instead, he bolted from the GOP, running as the nominee of the newly created Progressive Party, a.ka. the Bull Moose Party. This move split the Republican vote and contributed to the victory of Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

In 1940, Roosevelt's cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, sought an unprecedented third term as president. Vice President John Nance Garner, a former ally, and James Farley (the Democratic National Committee Chairman and Post Master General) ran against him for the Democratic nomination.

Farley was a longtime Roosevelt loyalist, managing two successful campaigns for Roosevelt for Governor of New York and for President. He was dismayed that Roosevelt sought a third term. The ambitious Farley, who wanted to succeed Roosevelt, had been led to believe that Roosevelt would not seek a third term. Farley held that no President should seek more than two terms.

Gardner, a business-oriented conservative Democrat from Texas, thought that Roosevelt had veered too far to the left ideologically and called some elements of Roosevelt's New Deal (Domestic program) "plain damn foolishness." Roosevelt easily fended off both challenges.

In 1968, the Democratic Presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey selected U.S. Senator Edmund Muskie (D-ME) as his vice presidential running mate. The ticket lost narrowly to Republicans Richard M. Nixon and Spiro Agnew.

Humphrey's presidential ambitions did not end after that election. In 1972, Humphrey again sought the Democratic Presidential nomination. He did this just six days after Muskie announced his intention to seek the nomination. Muskie was the early frontrunner and the choice of many members of the Democratic establishment, but he soon faded after a series of underperformances in the early primaries. Humphrey then became the defacto establishment favorite, but lost to the insurrectionist anti-Vietnam War candidate U.S. Senator George McGovern (D-SD). McGovern went on to lose badly to Nixon in the General Election.

McGovern won the Democratic primary with the help of the young campaign manager, Gary Hart. After McGovern lost in the General Election, Hart embarked on his own political career. In 1984, he sought the Democratic Presidential nomination as a moderate Democrat. That year, McGovern returned from the political wilderness and sought the nomination as well. He told Hart he did not believe any of the declared candidates were "saying what needs to be said." McGovern thought his message of full employment, curtailing defense spending, and freezing nuclear production was not being addressed adequately in the campaign.

McGovern, unlike Hart, stood little chance of winning the nomination, having lost badly in 1972, and having lost a re-election bid to the U.S. Senate in 1980. Hart ran as a moderate Democrat who was not a tribune of the labor unions and the "special interest government in Washington." McGovern ran as an unreconstructed liberal. The clash was ideological, not personal. McGovern belittled Hart's slogan "new ideas" by averring: "Those are rather attractive slogans, but they really have no intellectual content."

Successful candidates seize the moment even if that means running against a former boss when the boss is in political trouble. There are two recent prominent examples of this phenomenon. These are discussed directly below.

Blanche Lincoln began her career as a receptionist in the office of U.S. Representative Bill Alexander (D-AR). In 1992, eight years after she left Alexander's office, Lincoln challenged her old boss. Alexander was embarrassed when it was revealed that he had run up overdrafts in the House bank of $208,546. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Lincoln maintained: "I'll promise you one thing. I can sure enough balance my checkbook." Alexander could not distance himself from the charges, and Lincoln easily defeated him.

Similarly, U.S. Representative Gary Condit (D-CA), who had been immutable in past elections was engulfed in the national spotlight for the extramarital affair he had engaged in with intern Chandra Levy. Levy died in 2001 in what was later revealed to be a murder by criminal Ingmar Guandique. Condit is not believed to have had any involvement in the murder. Still, some constituents questioned if he was involved at the time.

Then in 2002, with Condit electorally vulnerable, State Assemblyman Dennis Cordoza, who had worked as Condit's Chief of Staff when Condit served as a State Assemblyman, challenged Condit in the Democratic primary. Believing Condit could not win in the General Election, many in the party's high command, led by the state's Democratic Chairman Art Torres, took the unusual step of supporting the challenger against the incumbent.

Cordoza won the nomination. The Condit team was deeply hurt by Cordoza's candidacy, and there was no rapprochement after the election. Condit's son, Chad Condit, protested after his father's loss: "Gary helped Dennis. Dennis backstabbed Gary. He took advantage of a tragedy... He saw an opportunity to win an election and he did it."

In 2004, Bill Murley, a correctional officer in Essex County, Massachusetts was disaffected with the policies of his boss, Sherriff Frank Cousins Jr. In an awkward turn of events, Murley ran against him in Cousin's bid for re-election, while serving under him concomitantly. Murley accused Cousins of "gross mismanagement" and alleged that there was an "unwritten rule" among employees of the Sheriff's Department to donate to the campaign. Cousins handily defeated Murley. After the election, Murley continued to work for the Sherriff's Department.

Perhaps the most historic and bizarre race was when two brothers actually ran against each other. It occurred in 1888. The Democrats nominated former U.S. Representative Robert Taylor (D-TN). The Republicans nominated Robert's older brother, attorney Alfred Taylor. The two brothers remained on good terms and traveled together throughout the campaign. Bob said at one of their debates that the two brothers were "roses from the same garden." Accordingly, the race earned the moniker: "The War of the Roses." Robert later recalled of this peculiar race: "There were lots of old fellows who didn't vote for either of us, because they were friends of both, but I do not know of a single Republican vote that I got nor of a single Democrat vote that he got." Robert won this election by about 16,000 votes. The election was uncommonly civil. Robert went on to serve for four years as governor of the Volunteer State. Alfred eventually captured the Tennessee governorship in 1920.

The internecine battle between Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio is just one in a litany of odd political rivalries in American politics. Despite any affection Rubio may have had for Bush, it did not dissuade him from seeking the nomination against him. As is common in American politics, Rubio simply seized the electoral moment.