Marco Rubio is done. He doesn’t know it yet, but after the Detroit debate I’d wager that most of his enablers in the donor class realize that Senator Rubio has no chance of winning the party’s nomination. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be useful to them. Until very recently, Rubio was the vessel into which GOP insiders poured their hopes and dreams. Rubio was soundly beaten on Super Tuesday coming third behind conservative stalwart Ted Cruz, nevermind frontunner Donald Trump.
Unfortunately, Rubio’s appeal does not extend far beyond the professional political class. Even in his home state of Florida he is increasingly unpopular and is running a distant second behind Trump. Rubio rose to prominence during the heady Tea Party summer of 2010. And it was Tea Party support that propelled Rubio to victory, first over former Republican Governor and rank opportunist Charlie Crist in the primary and then over Democrat Kendrick Meek in the general election. It is worth noting that Rubio ran as an immigration hawk, a position he disavowed almost immediately by co-authoring the Gang of 8. Also of note, Rubio did not win a majority of the vote when he was elected, finishing with a bit over 48% in a 3-man race.
The Debate Didn’t Help
Ted Cruz turned in a masterful performance at the Michigan debate – his best yet. Trump was Trump. And Rubio was left looking small and ineffectual. He had his set-pieces, his focus-group tested lines of attack, and his insult comic one-liners. But it didn’t do anything to bolster his own flagging candidacy. Nonetheless, tens of millions of dollars of Super-Pac cash will be spent attacking Trump in advance of the winner-take-all Florida and Ohio primaries on March 15th.
The money is already committed from billionaire benefactors like the Ricketts family (TD Ameritrade, Chicago Cubs) and Paul Singer (hedge funds). The consultants have been paid, the attack ads shot, and the airtime reserved. They must know that Rubio’s time has passed – the chance taken and lost. And so, the effort has become more explicitly anti-Trump than pro-Rubio. Which leaves poor Marco playing the part exactly as his conservative detractors always said he would – an empty suit, dancing to the tune called by donors and consultants. And what’s worse, they’ve sent him on a kamikaze mission.
Anti-Trump Not Pro-Marco
The forces intent on Trump’s destruction are no longer so much pro-Rubio as they are anti-Trump. And Rubio is the vehicle they have designated to pour out their wrath. They have convinced themselves that stopping Trump is a moral crusade of world historic proportions. Churchill had Hitler, Reagan defeated communism, and Republican elites have…Donald Trump. Increasingly it looks like a tantrum. Peevishness, even petulance, is common among those accustomed to wielding power and who see it slipping away. And the permanent political class senses that Trump will overturn the existing order upon which so many political dreams – and livelihoods – are based.
Unfortunately Marco Rubio does not seem to sense the ground shifting under his feet – or the motives of those using him to attack Donald Trump. “Go on the attack. Give him a taste of his own medicine,” they said. Yet the damage Rubio has done to himself seems worse than to Trump. He is disliked and distrusted by a growing part of the Republican base. Some of this is his own doing – no one forced him to sponsor the Gang of 8 amnesty legislation – but more recently his campaign has made him look small and petty. And remember, Rubio is not running for reelection to the Senate this year so it’s the White House or bust for him. Perhaps it is that desperate thought that he uses to justify acting on some of the outlandish advice he has been getting. He should stop.
Voters will have their way. And like it or not, the nomination is Trump’s to lose. He has racked up the wins, the delegates, and the momentum. If there is a viable alternative to Donald Trump it is Ted Cruz. And even that is a long-shot. At this point, Rubio must accept reality, refuse to be someone else’s suicide bomber, and take control of his own campaign and future. He should exit the race and throw his support behind either Trump, as the presumptive nominee, or Cruz as the principled alternative. But the path he is on leads to his own destruction.
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