Then, alas, there is Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), christened “Little Marco” by Trump. The name stuck — and, after suspending his campaign Tuesday after Trump destroyed him in his home state, Rubio looks more diminished than ever. And he will soon be out of a job.
Rubio’s parade of missteps and bad strategy choices is well-documented. Although he was thrust into office in 2010 with help from the tea party movement, he backed an immigration bill decried by that wing of the GOP. An establishment candidate in an anti-establishment year who is Hispanic, he saw his party begin to coalesce around a reality TV star who openly espoused racism and nativism. He bravely took the blame for his loss in New Hampshire after a poor debate showing — remember “that will never happen again“? — but, Minnesota, Puerto Rico and Washington aside, he couldn’t parlay his lesson into a first-place finish. And when he tried to out-Trump Trump, insulting the real-estate mogul for his “small hands,” Rubio said he regretted it, perhaps proving that the only thing worse than slinging mud is slinging it half-heartedly.
Indeed, Rubio tried to follow a playbook that President Obama — state legislator turned U.S. senator turned president — perfected. But Rubio wasn’t a very good player.
“The man who criticized Obama for visiting a mosque and used Trumpian fear-mongering throughout was not only unable to beat a more authentically angry candidate; he also was unable to bow out with the sort of dignity that losing campaigns sometimes muster,” Isaac Chotiner wrote at Slate. “Rubio may have a political future in Florida or in the United States, but he is unlikely to ever be the bright shining political star that so many Republicans thought (and Democrats feared) he could be.”
Indeed, Rubio’s magical thinking was on display in his concession speech Tuesday night, in which he said it “is not God’s plan that I be president in 2016 or maybe ever.” Defeated by the forces of division, he somehow still refused to recognize their power.
What now? Rubio, often a no-show in the Senate, reportedly “hates” it and, last year, announced his intention not to run for his seat again. The ex-candidate and soon-to-be ex-senator is just 44 — he may return to try for the White House in 2020 or later. But, after losing his home state, he might not be able to make that run from a position of power.
“Rubio, 44, could go to work in the private sector and make another presidential run in four years,” the South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s editorial board wrote, calling Rubio’s presidential bid “quixotic.” “However, without the political platform of his Senate office, and following his home-field loss this year, Rubio would hardly start as a favorite.” What about the Florida governorship? The Sun-Sentinel conceded that Rubio would be a “formidable gubernatorial candidate” but said he would have to overcome the perception that he likes campaigning but not governing and that he “has burned bridges with several party leaders.”
“He’s still young,” Dara Lind wrote at Vox. “He’s still talented. And he has close relationships with some key Republican policy wonks. But it’s not clear what job fits those skills as well as ‘presidential candidate’ does. And if Rubio wants to be a presidential candidate in 2020 or 2024, he’ll probably have to find a way to stay in the spotlight until then.”
Right now, Rubio is weakened. He may even backtrack on his pledge to support Trump as nominee. Meanwhile, Trump — who said Rubio’s “tough,” “smart” and “has a great future” on Tuesday night — couldn’t resist kicking his defeated rival while he was down. The candidate tweeted a video of Rubio’s recent comment: “I believe with all my heart that the winner of the Florida primary … will be the nominee of the Republican party.”
“Thank you Marco,” Trump, who won Florida, wrote. “I agree!”