The Fall of Marco

The sun has set on Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign and he must now return to his average job in his average office and ponder what happened.  In the Age of Trump this is not an easy question to answer, as everything we thought we knew about politics is null and void.  But even in this topsy-turvy, oh-my-god-is-this-happening election season, Rubio failed to make good on some basic tenets of running a successful campaign.

For starters, despite his attempt to brand his youth as an asset, it was not.  His lack of record in the Senate gave him no accomplishments of any consequence to point to and his career in the Florida House hardly gave him requisite training in how to handle the intense pressure of the national media.  Being the rookie in the race led to countless unforced errors that routinely undermined his authority that he was ready to lead.  Finally, the emergence of Donald Trump and the unconventional campaign put the final nail in the coffin of the hopes of the GOP’s young rising star.

One of Marco Rubio’s favorite tag lines throughout his campaign was that the wasn’t going to “wait his turn” like the establishment wanted him to.  He said that politics shouldn’t be about electing someone because they had checked off items on a bureaucratic bucket list, but about electing someone who was right for the moment. And the current moment in 2016 required a young, hopeful, inspirational freshman senator who could unite warring political factions around the country.  Does this sound familiar?

It should, because Rubio’s party just spent seven years eviscerating a president for running a campaign based on that identical platform.  The Republican Party claims that part of the reason Obama has so royalty screwed America is because he was a freshman senator who abdicated his elected duties for campaign events in pursuit of higher office.

With that harsh message about electing an inexperienced symbol of change seared into their minds, the Republican electorate had a hard time buying what Rubio was selling when it came to his experience.

The positive aspect of not having a long list of political accomplishments to your name is that you are unhinged from the ball and chain of your recorded positions.  The negative part of being able to brand yourself is that if you brand yourself poorly, then not only do you have no record, but now also a poor reputation.

When Rubio first came to the Senate, he attempted to stake out a role as serious senator who could be the of the new conservative party.  He secured a spot on the revered Intelligence Committee where fellow senators remarked that he seemed to grasp concepts quickly and thoroughly.  Most notably though, he was a member of the now infamous Gang of Eight that worked to craft the 2013 comprehensive immigration bill.  

The part of the bill that ended up sinking it was the portion that granted a path to citizenship over 13 years to those currently here illegally.  As the Republican party caved to their base and veered sharply away from this compromise, Rubio got political cold feet and joined the stampede from the center.

Here is the problem with that shortsighted reversal.  Three years later as Rubio was fighting for his political livelihood, five states voted on March 15th whose voters all viewed “amnesty” favorably.  But by this point, the damage was done.  His monumental flip flop showed the voters that not only was he unsupportive of their favored policy, but that he didn’t have the backbone to support them when the going got tough.

For all of Ted Cruz’s faults – and oh are there many – he is steadfast in his convictions. He persists in his stances no matter how unpopular they are, even forcing a government shutdown in 2013 that temporarily damaged the reputation of his entire party.  Voters admire conviction, even when it is occasionally wrong, and many saw through Rubio’s Charmin-soft outer shell.

It wasn’t just Rubio’s long term positions that he failed to stay consistent on.  Throughout the campaign his stump speech and message seemed to change with the wind.  He started his campaign with a message of hope, preaching that America’s greatness could only grow.  As it became apparent that this was not year to sell hope, he shifted to a message about America’s “depleted military” and sagging economy. By contrast, John Kasich stuck to his message of positivity and look who is still in the race.

Later as Trump further pushed the campaign into third grade recess territory, Rubio decided that he too, needed to leave the classroom for the playground. For nearly two weeks he traded high minded policy arguments for punch lines about Trump’s fingers, hair, and well… other body parts.  

But he wasn’t done yet.  When that strategy remained in stuck in the mud, he apologized to the country and said he was embarrassed by his own remarks.  Rather than make him appear presidential, it made him look unprofessional and unprepared for the rigor of the national spotlight.

Being a public figure isn’t an easy task by any means, but running for president is a whole different ballgame.  In a piece in Esquire describing the infamous “Dean Scream,” Howard Dean candidly admitted that “the honest truth is that {he} wasn’t ready for prime-time.”  That being a Governor of a small state wasn’t the same as have every statement dissected with a fine toothed comb by every media outlet in the nation.

Rubio faced this same shock.  From his reaching for the water bottle during his rushed State of the Union response to his repetitive robot-like gaffe during a recent primary debate, Rubio clearly wasn’t ready for the constant, diamond producing pressure of a presidential campaign.  

All of these moments individually may not have been fatal, but combined they painted a picture of a young, overly ambitious politician who wasn’t ready for the national stage.  In presidential elections, image matters and many voters couldn’t couldn’t get over the image of Rubio as a candidate who was constantly trying to find his chi.

Sadly, even if Rubio were a polished candidate who had a solid set of positions, he still likely would have succumbed to the behemoth that is the Trump movement.  Trump was the worst possible candidate for someone like Rubio.  

Trump is brash and confident, Rubio is tepid and calculating.  Trump could care less what anyone thinks of him, Rubio only cares what others think of him.  Trump could sell water to a well – or steaks to an electronics store – and Rubio couldn’t even convince those outside of his hometown to vote for him.

Having already declared that he is retiring from the Senate at the end of this year and also closed the door on a run for governor, it is unclear what path Rubio plans to chart for himself at this juncture.  Alas, only one person can win the presidency and as he said it himself, he had a good season but didn’t win the Super Bowl.

Photo: Paul Sancya, AP

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