March 16, 2016

The Ides of Rubio’s March

His work with the Gang of Eight did him in before he started.

Sen. Marco Rubio’s White House bid came to an end Tuesday night after he lost his home state of Florida to Donald Trump. The winner-take-all primary was the last hope Rubio had to keep his campaign alive, even though the much needed victory would have done little more than just that — keep him alive.

Rubio’s 168 delegates are now free at the convention to vote for another candidate.

“While we are on the right side, this year we will not be on the winning side,” Rubio said in announcing the suspension of his campaign. “While this may not have been the year for a hopeful and optimistic message about our future, I remain hopeful and optimistic about America.” But he also warned of the “politics of resentment,” which will “leave us not just a fractured party but a fractured nation.”

Rubio made one particular assertion that already haunts many a Republican this year: “We should have seen this coming.”

Rubio, a vocal and telegenic member of the Tea Party wave of 2010, was supposed to be the embodiment of conservative principles and a new hope for the Republican Party. Young, handsome, and politically gifted, he seemed destined for big things — perhaps especially to appeal to minorities in a way the GOP thought after 2012 in really needed to do. Now, not only are his White House dreams dashed for this election cycle, rumors are already circulating about what will become of his political future in general.

That last sentiment may be a little overblown. American politics is replete with second chances. But the question that must be asked is, what happened to Marco Rubio? How did his campaign flame out so spectacularly?

Columnist Rebecca Hagelin may have said it best: “I was one of those people who believed everything Marco said. … But like many of my fellow Floridians who supported Marco, I soon realized that he had kicked me in the gut [on immigration]. The young senator broke his promises, belied many of his conservative principles, and ran right into the loving arms of the likes of Senator Chuck Schumer.”

Indeed, in a year when voters want Mexico to pay for a border wall, it was Rubio’s opposite tack on immigration that sunk him. He mingled with leftists on the so-called Gang of Eight and its ridiculous attempt to create an immigration policy based on what many conservatives view as amnesty. At first glance, one might have thought, or even hoped, that Rubio had been duped. That doesn’t appear to be the case.

So it’s ironic that Rubio’s run came to an end on the Ides of March.

Sen. Ted Cruz claimed at a recent GOP debate that Rubio went on Univision and promised that he would not end Barack Obama’s amnesty until true immigration reform had been passed. Rubio called Cruz a liar for the comment, but Rubio did in fact state that executive amnesty would be replaced by immigration reform, which would presumably make the amnesty legal in any event.

Another blow to Rubio’s credibility on the issue was a report published by Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum that explored in detail all the ways Rubio deceived the media, the public, and his supporters about the Gang of Eight immigration reform bill. The report essentially argues that Rubio knew there were significant flaws in the legislation and sought a political victory anyway. That victory never came, leaving Rubio to advocate against the bill he pushed and voted for.

Rubio plowed forward with his campaign despite all this. He refused to cede ground to Cruz (or anyone else), insisting that he was the one who would save the GOP from a Trump nomination. Yet Rubio’s inability to break out and gain any real momentum kept the big donors just beyond reach.

Rubio’s attempt at a national campaign with less than national resources didn’t do him any favors, either. He ended up being strapped for cash in Florida, setting up his campaign only a month ago. Trump’s operation has been up and running in the Sunshine State since November. Even Rubio’s grassroots network was showing signs of strain in the days leading up to the Florida primary.

His support already tepid, the final blow likely came from Rubio himself, when he went after Trump with Trumpish juvenile insults. Those kinds of shenanigans are Trump’s bread and butter, but they don’t work for other candidates — and Rubio realized it too late.

On a wider scale, Rubio’s defeat marks a rebuke of the Republican Party’s efforts after Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012 to reach out to minorities, and Hispanics in particular. That view was the prevailing wisdom among not just the Beltway establishment but many conservatives, too. Primary voters didn’t buy it.

As for Rubio’s future, who can say? He chose not to run for re-election to the Senate so he could focus on his presidential campaign. Come January 2017, he becomes a free agent. Florida’s governorship is open in 2018. Time will tell what he does next.

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