The tale of Marco Rubio is in some ways a sad but familiar one of a man whose vaulting ambition leads him to try and grab the crown before it is his time and fails. We have the spectacle of a young man, gifted with good looks, fluency of speech, and the ability to win elections at the state and local level, who then decides that he could become president even before he has built up a record of concrete achievements. In order to do that he takes careful stock of whose support he needs and carefully cultivates everyone who can help him on his way, such as the party establishment and big money backers.
And for a while that strategy of being all things to all people in the Republican world seemed to be working. He seemed to well liked and becomes many people’s second choice, the person who would inherit the nomination when the others fell. The party establishment seemed to like him, as did some of the big money backers. But then came that disastrous robotic debate performance and his poor performance on Super Tuesday and after that his decision to get down and dirty with Donald Trump.
Rubio’s pivot to Trump was by all accounts deliberate and carefully planned. With the exception of his debate meltdown in New Hampshire — when he was mocked for robotically repeating talking points — Rubio had a strong early February, slowly gaining momentum, money and high-wattage endorsements. Once Trump beat him and Cruz in South Carolina and Nevada, however, Rubio’s supporters agitated for him to take a more aggressive stance or risk letting Trump run away with the nomination.
Not 12 hours later, Rubio’s stump speech had changed — dramatically. At a rally in downtown Dallas, Rubio spent close to eight minutes taking potshots at Trump, even as his audience’s titters turned to nervous unease.
The speech was carried live on cable news. Donors swamped Rubio and his advisers with messages urging him to abandon the insult-fest. Eventually, after he lost 10 of 11 states on Super Tuesday, Rubio dropped the line of attack.
The results were not pretty. Rubio lost 18 of the next 20 contests, with his only wins in Minnesota’s caucuses and Puerto Rico’s primary. The ultimate humiliation came on Tuesday, when Rubio performed so poorly in four states — he got just 5 percent in Mississippi — that he was shut out from gaining any delegates.
Realizing that he had disappointed many of his backers, Rubio then apologized for sinking into the gutter and promised to not do it again. The last debate saw the earlier Rubio re-emerge and was quite civil and he even said he would support the eventual nominee, even if it were Trump. But then a few days ago, he seemed to have turned against Trump again, just before today’s primaries.
The other problem for him has been his relationship with casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Adelson has been dangling his promises of support in order to get Republican candidates to increase their already fervent support of the one issue he cares about, and that is Israel. While Rubio had been successful in getting the support of other big money supporters whose main interest was Israel, Adelson was the big prize. Adelson had promised that he would heavily back one of the Republican candidates the way he did Newt Gingrich in 2012 and they all dutifully lined up to kiss his ring and attend his several ‘auditions’. If there has been any candidate who has ardently courted Adelson’s money it has been Rubio.
In the last debate Rubio even referred to the Occupied Territories as ‘Judea and Samaria’. Many people may have missed it but that is the name that Israeli expansionists use to refer to support their claim that those territories are biblically theirs. For such people, there is no Occupied Territory, just parts of Israel that is rightfully theirs and that they have simply reclaimed. Rubio was issuing a dog whistle that he was one of them, though that may be superfluous since he was already speaking of Palestinians is the harshest of terms.
Rubio even made a Hail Mary move late in the day in order to get the backing of Adelson. Philip Weiss writes that Rubio created what he calls a ‘national security advisory council’ consisting of a large number of neoconservative war hawks and other members of the Israel lobby. But even this increased groveling did not finally tip Adelson into his camp and release money to revive his moribund campaign.
It looks like Adelson has played them all for suckers. After getting them all except Trump to adopt heavily pro-Israel stances, he has not opened his wallet to any of them.
Despite the record sums being spent, big names are surprisingly absent from the donor rolls. Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson — who spent at least $98 million on the 2012 presidential race — has not donated to a Super PAC in 2016. Cash from the Koch brothers is also MIA this primary season. And representatives of both Adelson and the Kochs tell Rolling Stone they are not behind a top “dark-money” group spending millions to elect Rubio.
So today will see if Rubio’s gamble for running for the presidency this year pays off, though the prospects are not promising. If he loses, he may wonder if should have tried converting to Judaism. After all, adopting new religions seems to come easy to him. He already has been a Catholic, a Mormon, and an evangelical Christian and currently seems to have some kind of allegiance to all three. Adding on yet another religion should not be that hard for him. By becoming a Jew, he would also have a grand slam of religion that maybe could appeal to pretty much everyone.
Rubio’s effort to be all things to all people has resulted in him lurching from one strategy to another, adopting one persona after another, until it is not clear who he is. Maybe he can reinvent himself once again and try once more.