President Trump hands Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) the order after he announced policy changes he is making toward Cuba, in Miami on June 17. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Opinion writer

Little Marco has made up with Big Donald.

The pliable Republican senator from Florida and the deranged president of the United States now get along. It was only a bit more than a year ago that they were hurling verbal spitballs at one another. Donald Trump called Marco Rubio “Little Marco,” and Rubio called Trump a “con artist.” Rubio suggested Trump had small hands, and Trump responded by displaying his regulation-sized ones. Trump said Rubio sweated too much and had a severe water addiction, which was a sign of something, and then the two of them traded jabs about who used too much makeup until, finally, Rubio alleged that Trump had wet his pants during one of their debates. Trump declared that he had not — and was elected president.

It is refreshing, in an aerosol sort of way, to have that squabble behind us and the room fumigated. Only Trump remains, spewing resentful tweets from somewhere in the White House. I could say that it is a good and wholesome thing to return to yesteryear, when the day’s rancorous politics ended with bourbon and branch and the camaraderie that comes from acknowledging that the real enemy is not across the aisle, but the American people. They can vote you out.

But with Trump, there is no going back to the old ways. Just as “Macbeth doth murder sleep,” so has Trump broken Washington. He has changed the town just as surely as the Huns did Rome, and in similar fashion — with boorishness, bullying and violence of a verbal nature. His tweets, along with his occasionally non-tweeted remarks, are not only unpresidential, they’d be sufficient grounds for a timeout in almost any American family.

And yet, it has to be said that Trump has not only won, he has conquered. The capitulation of the Florida butterfly, pinned by Trump for display, is just one example. The more consequential one was last week’s Cabinet meeting in which almost all but Defense Secretary Jim Mattis abased themselves before a totally hallucinogenic Trump. One by one around the table, Trump’s ministers praised him, singing hosannas to his obvious greatness. Reince Priebus, a man who speaks lies to power, told the president to his face that it was an “opportunity and blessing that you’ve given us to serve,” and Trump, a man who does not gag, stoically lapped it up. Just moments before, the president observed of the president that no president, “with few exceptions,” has “passed more legislation [and] done more things than we’ve done.” All over the country, fact-checkers hyperventilated.

(Reuters)

A white-coated attendant did not appear and lead the president away. On the contrary, the Cabinet nodded in approval. The secretary of state, an oilman from Texas named Rex of all things, went along with the psychodrama and then offered his own fawning praise of a man he knows he would never have hired back when he was running ExxonMobil and still had some pride.

But here’s the thing: It didn’t matter. The bizarre meeting was a one- or two-day story. Washington went on. Not a person in the Cabinet Room even made a face. They all went back to work, and so did the town itself. Weirdness has become normal. A president showing himself being detached from reality became an acceptable reality.

I don’t ask much of Marco Rubio. He is not a major figure, but instead a malleable one who puts his finger to the wind and feels the breeze blowing both ways. When he declared for the presidency, he vowed that he would not seek reelection to the Senate if he lost. He lost and sought reelection. He had to be in the Senate in the event Hillary Clinton won, he explained. Oh, the things he does for his country!

But if Rubio cannot keep his word, I’d like him at least to hold a grudge. Trump cannot be forgiven for the ugliness of his presidential campaign — the lies, the name-calling, the denigration of opponents, the demagoguery and the wink-wink about violence. He cannot be treated as if his was a normal campaign, a good, hard fight and all of that, when it was bursting with head-butting, low blows and eye-gouging — as dirty a performance as this country has ever seen. Rubio was on the receiving end of some of those insults, the most damaging — if the most perceptive — is that he was “Little Marco,” too small to be president and now not big enough to stand up for us all.

Read more from Richard Cohen’s archive.