From savior to suspended.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio - whom Time Magazine just a few years ago hailed as the Republican Party's "savior" - suspended his presidential campaign last night after losing his home state’s primary in a devastating landslide to Donald Trump. The political post-mortems on Rubio have begun – and so have the questions about his future.
“America’s in the middle of a real political storm, a real tsunami, and we should have seen this coming,” Rubio told supporters at the start of his concession speech at Florida International University. "Look, people are angry, and people are very frustrated."
Rubio did indeed get hit by a political tsunami. Trump routed him by almost 20 points.
Rubio’s usually sunny face, in fact, had the same bewildered expression worn six years ago by former Florida Governor Charlie Crist. And that’s the big irony of Rubio’s 2016 debacle.
More than any other bloc, it was angry, frustrated Tea Party conservatives who helped Rubio defeat Crist in the 2010 Senate race. Those same voters just helped Trump trounce Rubio.
Political experts like Sean Foreman of Barry University in Miami – Rubio’s hometown – say they know why.
“Marco Rubio was able to use the Tea Party movement" in 2010, says Foreman, "but at the same time not really be true to that Tea Party philosophy. He thought he could ride with one foot in the Tea Party movement and one foot in the Republican establishment movement supported by Jeb Bush and others in Tallahassee.”
But Foreman points out that in today’s Republican Party, there’s just one problem with trying to have it both ways like that:
“It doesn’t work that way. That’s not the way the voters see it. They want you to be one or the other. And right now, those outsiders who want to tear the government down are the ones who are selecting the nominee.”
Rubio is a Cuban-American and the son of immigrants. He wanted to build Republican bridges to Latinos – and so he joined the bipartisan effort to craft immigration reform. But Tea Party conservatives took that as Rubio essentially pardoning illegal immigrants.
It had the same effect on Rubio as hugging President Obama did on Charlie Crist in 2009.
Sensing the backlash, Rubio dropped out of immigration reform. But Foreman says it was too late.
“Marco Rubio’s failed presidential bid in one word – it’s amnesty," says Foreman. "Where he miscalculated was the fervent opposition to illegal immigration and the real passion out there to keep people from moving toward a pathway to citizenship.”
But in the end it wasn’t just the far right who divorced Rubio. More moderate and establishment Republicans grew exasperated with his political ambition and, more important, his less than robust performance as a U.S. Senator – including his absentee voting record.
Now that Senate career is over too – he gave up re-election to run for President. Still, at just age 44, Rubio stands a good chance of salvaging his political future. Perhaps a run for Governor of Florida two years from now.
“Marco is a young man," says Keith Haymes, a Coconut Grove attorney with a governmental affairs practice who closely watches GOP politics. "He has some very compelling qualities. And the future for him will nonetheless, I feel, look very bright.
“I know that it has been a setback for him to deal with the voting record question. However, he has shown an ability to connect. This is not his time, but down the road we can see a Rubio candidate who has learned to recalibrate and repositions himself accordingly.”
In fact, in his concession speech last night, Rubio’s pledge to recalibrate sounded more spiritual than political.
God "has a plan for every one of our lives," he said. "And we await eagerly to see what lies ahead.”
But Rubio also made another kind of plea.
“I ask the American people do not – do not give in to the fear. Do not give in to the frustration.”
It might have been the same thing Charlie Crist was thinking on election night six years ago.