Despite his promises that he would stay in the race regardless of what happened in Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio brought his campaign to a close on Tuesday night after losing in a landslide to juggernaut Donald Trump. In his concession speech, held in a dimly-lit Miami atrium, Rubio was visibly sad and simultaneously positive. And, ironically, probably got more national airtime than he had at any other single time in the contest.
The loss in Florida was a devastating one. Though some Republican insiders still believe the best chance at defeating Trump lies in dividing the electorate all the way to the convention, most of Rubio’s donors and aides were already urging him to drop out of the race. By the time the networks projected Trump the victor, there was really nothing else for the young senator to do.
“America’s in the middle of a real political storm, a real tsunami,” he said. “And we should have seen this coming.”
Once a Tea Party favorite, Rubio was tagged with the “establishment” label in a Republican primary filled with neurosurgeons, HP CEOs, and, of course, Trump. And, much like his former mentor Jeb Bush, he was seen as weak on immigration in a year where Trump turned it into one of the biggest issues in America. His association with the Gang of Eight bill led to a couple of fierce debate battles with Ted Cruz. Though Rubio renounced the bill and promised voters that he would secure the border before pursuing amnesty, that message was just not what conservatives wanted to hear.
In his speech, Rubio acknowledged the anger that many believe is responsible for Trump’s dominance. “From a political standpoint, the easiest thing to have done is jump on all those anxieties, to make people angrier and more frustrated,” he said. “But I chose a different route and I’m proud of that. In a year like this, that would be the easiest way to win. But that’s not what’s best of America. It will leave us not just a fractured party, but a fractured nation.”
That analysis will have a lot of his supporters nodding, but it’s wrong. And it’s a mistake that Trump’s detractors keep making. Go to a Trump rally. If there’s anger, it’s from the protesters. Contrary to the narrative, Trump’s supporters are a joyous bunch. There’s more laughter and excitement at his events than at any other politician’s. At times, Trump almost seems like a stand-up comedian, and he’s been known to spend more time musing on his poll numbers than on his plans for the country. This idea that his supporters are seething with rage is a myth.
However, there’s no question that he’s tapped into something. But it’s not so much anger as it is hope. The voters aligned with Trump see in him someone who can actually do what other politicians only talk about. After years of wearily watching elected Republicans lay out the red carpet for Obama’s policies, here was a guy who represented a real threat to the status quo. The fact that his only serious remaining challenger is Cruz – the other candidate with that potential – should be a clue.
Rubio’s a great talker. He’s got the look. But he was never going to be the guy to turn the Washington establishment on its head.