Republican leaders did everything they could to prop up Marco Rubio. After Scott Walker flamed out early; after Rick Perry found he needed more than smart glasses to stage a second presidential run; after Bobby Jindal couldn’t even excite members of his immediate family; after Chris Christie got out-bullied; after the great legacy candidate Jeb Bush found it takes more than punctuation to get people excited; after all this, in the end there was Rubio, sitting alone on the once deep Republican bench, the lone remaining hope of the party establishment. They did everything they could to make it happen for him. Marco was surging, always surging, always always surging in polls that somehow showed him stalled at 15%. If you were honest about it, you knew the Rubio narrative never quite measured up to his long string of also-ran finishes, and that his promoters were feverishly trying to turn him into something more than the empty and brittle candidate he was proving to be. But they tried. They had no choice.
On paper, Rubio checked all the boxes: young, articulate, on message, great story, upbeat. If you assembled a nominee from a schematic he would look like Marco Rubio, someone who could package hardcore conservative ideas for consumption by moderate voters. There was a time when Rubio was on the verge of being formidable, when he was poised to take credit for resolving the impasse on immigration policy – if only reactionary House Republicans hadn’t been an insurmountable obstacle and forced Rubio to run away from his efforts as quickly as Mitt Romney ran away from his healthcare accomplishments. Imagine Rubio being able to claim credit, in English and Spanish, for resolving one of the most important and intractable issues of our day. It would have been a powerful campaign narrative and a far stronger rationale for his candidacy than his work on eminent domain.
Party leaders couldn’t have that candidate and simultaneously placate its vocal anti-immigrant constituency, so they went into battle with the Rubio they had, only to find that few voters were willing to rally around the story of his inevitability. Appropriately, Rubio won the Republican Washington, DC caucus – barely – but he has struggled in electorates with a lower density of lobbyists. He watched from behind as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz traded victories in Louisiana, Kentucky, Kansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Wyoming, Maine, Mississippi and Michigan, setting him up for a last stand in today’s winner-take-all primary in his native Florida, where his campaign played to embarrassingly small crowds. There was no place left for him to turn after his defeat there. So the process-of-elimination candidate was eliminated, along with the hopes of those who did everything they could to make him more than he was.