No Congress watcher expected Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to break with his party and vote either for witnesses to be called in the Senate impeachment trial or to remove President Donald Trump.
But the way in which Rubio announced his opposition to both efforts -- via a Medium post Friday afternoon -- was a stunning reminder of the knots ambitious Republicans are tying themselves in to avoid outraging the President while also trying to keep themselves credible with the broader Republican electorate.
Here are the key lines from Rubio's statement (which you can and should read here):
"Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a President from office. ...
"... I will not vote to remove the President because doing so would inflict extraordinary and potentially irreparable damage to our already divided nation."
So. What Rubio is saying is this:
1) Trump did the things in regard to Ukraine that have been alleged. ("New witnesses that would testify to the truth of the allegations are not needed for my threshold analysis, which already assumed that all the allegations made are true," Rubio wrote.)
2) Partisan impeachment is bad.
3) He is voting against removing the President
So, and just hear me out on this, what if Rubio, who says he takes as true the allegations against Trump, voted to remove Trump. Wouldn't that make the impeachment bipartisan? And therefore nullify -- or at least mitigate -- the core of his argument that the country would see all of this as nothing more than a partisan affair?
And, more broadly, how can anyone read -- much less write -- this sentence and think that it all makes sense: "Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a President from office."
Huh? So Trump has done things that meet the standard of impeachment but impeaching him for committing impeachable acts would be, uh, bad for our partisan divide? Am I reading that right?
The "why" behind Rubio's statement is much easier to discern than the statement itself.
Rubio ran for president in 2016. He would like to do so again -- maybe as soon as 2024. To do so successfully, Rubio will likely need to walk a very fine line between the Trump faction of the party and the bloc, currently (mostly) in hiding, who believe in a very different version of what the Republican Party can and should be.
Remember, too, that Rubio has some work to do with the Trump folks following his decision to go nuclear on Trump during the 2016 campaign ("You know what they say about men with small hands"). And Rubio's also not beloved by the "Never Trump" crowd (such as it currently exists) because of his willingness to endorse Trump as a candidate and support him as President.
Attempting to please all sides is what produces statements like Rubio's. In trying to thread such a fine political needle, his position on the removal of the President reads like satire. Sure, Trump probably did it. And, yeah, it's impeachable. But I'm not going to impeach him because, uh, partisanship.
Trump's hostile takeover of the Republican Party over the last three years -- and the party's capitulation to it -- has made for strange bedfellows. Fewer are stranger than Trump and Rubio. And, judging from this statement, Rubio and himself.