In the end, the promise of Marco Rubio was bigger than the reality. His crushing defeat in Florida, where he only won his home area of Miami-Dade, is a bitter end to a young politician who was once seen as the future of his party and as the key to expanding the ever smaller Republican tent to include enough Latinos to be able to win a national election again.
Rubio suspended his presidential bid Tuesday night, after losing Florida by an impressive margin to the insurgent campaign of Donald Trump. For weeks, Rubio had insisted that Florida was a must win, and implied if he could not prevail in his home state he would probably be done. He didn´t even come close, and he was.
The young and attractive Cuban-American senator can give a good speech and his is a great story of immigrant working class parents finding their American dream after arriving in the late 50s. But his optimistic message of a “new American century” was clearly not what most Republican voters wanted. Rubio himself partly acknowledged this on election night when he made an assessment of the political moment his party is going thru.
“This is a political storm, a tsunami and we should had seen it coming” Rubio said. At the very moment he finished saying this words, someone in the audience began shouting and interrupting his speech. Smiling bitterly, the failed candidate said to the man: “Do not worry, no one will beat you up in here”. And maybe that was precisely the problem: the Republican base seems eager to choose a strong man who promises “To Make America Great Again” and has no problem with recommending or promoting violence with his incendiary speech.
That is not who Rubio is, he would have been a great candidate for any year, but this one. Most Republican voters are looking to destroy the current system, feeling that it hasn´t worked for them. They are convinced that the party elites have failed them again and again, and they weren´t in for another well spoken man in a suit who receives money from the same old donors.
Rubio attributed the anger of the Republican base to the economic recession of 2007 and 2008 and the long-term changes that the economy has suffered, causing hardship in the working classes. He said “millions of people are tired of being looked at from above by the party elites” and argued that the party needs a different establishment “that does not despise conservative people, doesn´t tell the young to wait their turn aren´t more interested in winning elections than in solving problems”.
Unfortunately for him, Rubio has been part of that establishment. Despite being elected in 2010 to the US Senate as a candidate of the Tea Party, Rubio worked with the bipartisan group of Senators known as the “Gang of Eight” in 2013, to craft a comprehensive reform bill that included a broad earned legalization. Since coming to the Senate himself, amid an” almost total paralysis of Congress, Rubio had failed to have major legislative accomplishments. And this immigration bill was certainly not to the liking of the party base.
The bill passed the Senate, but even before that day, Rubio had started to move away from it, as Senator John McCain had done about his previous efforts at legalization when he ran for president. But, as McCain, Rubio´s shift did not make him more likable to the conservative base. This was crystal clear on Tuesday night In Florida, where the map of votes showed all counties in the state going for Donald Trump and a single county voting for Rubio: his home of Miami Dade where its diverse, cosmopolitan and still somewhat dominant Cuban population.
The rest of Republicans in Florida, mainly white working class folk, chose the guy who promises a scorched earth strategy instead of a “new-old” American Century of more of the same, men in suits that get money from the elite class and govern mainly for those interests, while keeping the base content with some red meat issue like Planned Parenthood. It used to work. Now it doesn´t anymore.
I also believe that the base never forgave Rubio for wanting to legalize “the illegals”, as Donald Trump went around Florida not letting them forget Rubio was for “amnesty” and he was going to build a “beautiful wall” which Mexico will pay for (even though it doesn´t work there because people come in boats or rafts).
The truth is that Rubio had rejected his own immigration reform for an alternative in which immigrants would receive, perhaps, after securing the border, a temporary status for ten years that would not lead to a green card for who knows how long. He also advocated policies that would have kept his parents out, saying today´s immigration system cannot afford to receive the working class immigrants of today as it did those of yesteryear. The fact that Rubio said he wanted to close the door to the immigrants that are exactly what his parents were when they came -so called “low skilled workers”, his dad was a bartender, his mother a domestic worker- did not sit well with most Latinos. Didn´t he say a few times that he would not support a policy that was bad for his mother?
Finally, on Tuesday night Rubio, who didn´t play a particularly conciliatory campaign of race relations, also lambasted his party and its leading candidate for “the politics of resentment toward others.”
“That will break us apart as a party and as a nation, we will end up hating everyone who has a different political opinion,” he said. This is something that appeared to have been understood three years ago when his party did an electoral post mortem after the 2012 campaign and declared that they needed to reach out to Latinos with a different tone and support immigration reform, among other measures. That report has just turned three years old and it´s sitting there on a shelve, lost in the chaos of the Trump revolution.
It is not clear what Rubio´s political future will be. He will also have to leave the Senate this year as he is not seeking reelection after just one term. A race for governor of Florida has been rumored, but right now he doesn´t seem in the best position to do that. This moment will probably require self reflection for the young Senator, but maybe it should have been as easy as being true to his roots. Had he followed his mother’s advice, which she left him on a voice mail in December of 2012, he might have sounded more authentic and gotten a more enthusiastic support from moderates and Latinos.
He told the story to Time magazine in 2013. His mother Oriales Garcia called him in December 2012 and left a message on his voicemail.
“Tony, some loving advice from the person who cares for you most in the world,” Rubio’s mother said in Spanish in a voice mail played for Time magazine. “Don’t mess with the immigrants, my son. Please, don’t mess with them.
“They’re human beings just like us, and they came for the same reasons we came. To work. To improve their lives. So please, don’t mess with them,” she said.
At the time, Rubio said these words helped him to remember the human side of immigration. But his presidential ambitions were stronger.
Rubio decided to be more restrictive than generous towards immigrants, essentially muddling his previous position on the issue and his support for a legalization program with a path to citizenship to the point that it was very complicated and unclear.
And still, this restrictive point of view, which would have probably ended up deporting his own grandfather (who was undocumented for a few years and almost got deported, before being given a reprieve) did not earn him the vote of conservative white republican base.
Time to reflect, Tony.