There was always something phony about Marco Rubio. He had the ingratiating smile of a person who tried hard to make you like him and yet that very effort on his part was what turned you off, like the person who keeps wanting to be friends with you and yet the more he or she tries, the less you want to. He also had some of the most extreme positions on issues and a steely-eyed certainty in his own rightness and the support of god for them even when they were utterly abhorrent. I am truly glad to see him get the boot.
But he was clearly the Republican’s hope for the future, a telegenic, fluent Latino whom they hoped would do for the Republicans what Barack Obama had done for the Democrats and connect strongly with a younger and more diverse demographic than the party has traditionally appealed to.
So why did his campaign crash and burn? Janet Reitman provides one of what we can expect to be many post-mortems of his campaign, and says that the roots of his problems date all the way back to when he started out as an ambitious young man in Florida and alienated people along with his rise in politics, using them in a manner reminiscent of Ted Cruz. And now they are getting their revenge.
The sameness of Rubio’s speeches was a subject of ridicule during the campaign, particularly by Chris Christie, who derided Rubio’s canned sounding lines as emblematic of his “boy in the bubble” aspect. Miami attorney J.C. Planas, who served with Rubio in the Florida legislature, chuckled when Christie accused Rubio of making the same speech for eight years: “I was like, ‘Eight? Buddy, pull the tapes from Florida!'” Planas says that he and some of his colleagues used to joke that Rubio woke up in the morning to practice his spiel in the mirror. “The other joke we had was there was only one book on his bookshelf, and it’s entitled, Are You Sure You’re Not Jesus Christ?”
Beyond the American Dream narrative, Rubio’s actual story is a far more standard tale of a hungry young politician who, blessed with native political intelligence, a capacity for impressing his elders and the uncanny ability to be in exactly the right place at the right time, maneuvered his way up the political ladder, so consumed with ambition that he barely seemed to notice those he left behind. “I don’t think it’s an accident that most Florida elected officials were with Jeb Bush and not Marco Rubio,” says Jorge Arrizurieta, a close friend and longtime associate of the former Florida governor. It’s a sentiment I hear frequently, interviewing associates and former colleagues of Rubio’s in Florida and in Washington. “I come from the school where loyalty matters, and his lack of loyalty is a very consistent trait,” says Arrizurieta. “He doesn’t need anybody else, because he’s Marco.”
As for Rubio, his loss in Florida can likely be summed up in one simple phrase: The voters saw through him. His landslide loss was not an embrace of Donald Trump; it didn’t have much to do with Rubio somehow descending into the puerile land of dick-size and locker-room jokes (though that certainly didn’t help), rather it was a straightforward rejection of the guy Floridians haven’t liked for a while. Rubio was the first Cuban-American speaker of the Florida House, something he achieved by forging connections with powerful, and mostly white, legislators from the northern part of the state, often at the cost of his own constituents, who, in one memorable case, suffered millions of dollars in losses to their education budget after Rubio agreed to divert state education funds away from his district. Rubio embraced, and then all but abandoned, the Tea Party. He was first for, then against, then for and then against immigration reform. He jumped the line, having an Oedipal showdown with Jeb Bush live, on national television. And he never showed up for work.
Jeb Lund twists the knife in the wound.
His announcement that his campaign was over could not have been more fitting for what his campaign represented: A passionate delivery of an old idea everyone had already memorized, delivered instead as news. A few people listening had red eyes, as some internal mechanism in Rubio yanked down a lever to the Emotionally Uplifting Twaddle setting.
“I ask the American people: Do not give in to the fear. Do not give in to the frustration,” he said. “We can disagree about public policy, we can disagree about it vibrantly, passionately. But we are a hopeful people, and we have every right to be hopeful.”
It was a valediction of bullshit, as inexorable and damned as the rising Florida tide.
It was Rubio’s campaign, after all, that announced, “Nothing matters if we aren’t safe,” that inflated a potential single Iranian nuclear weapon into an existential threat to the whole United States, that portrayed the border as a sieve through which ISIS would infiltrate potentially thousands of terrorists, that implied we’d restart the Guantanamo torture machine, that said we’d nearly conceded the rest of the century to China, that proclaimed the next generation nearly certain to be immiserated compared to their parents and described the president as alternately a mortally dangerous incompetent and a godless Machiavel who spent the last seven years fundamentally transforming the nation into an unrecognizable dystopia.
It was a masterpiece of bullshit, combining the Rubio experience’s two true and constant outcomes: a text any follower could have reasonably assembled from the greatest hits, and one whose philosophical aspirations were invalidated by the person voicing them. Rubio’s rhetoric never tried to soar higher than when it was being undermined by everything else he campaigned on.
It was the last weepy gesture of a bozo charlatan, and it sent most of the audience away unaffected. When he finished, people moved as if to exit and found themselves suddenly stopped by a room so full of journalists that everyone had their own personal interviewer.
On Thursday, Rubio told reporters that he is “not running for anything” and is going to “be a private citizen.” And that, too, is almost certainly bullshit.
I agree with Lund. Running for office and sucking up to the wealthy and powerful is all that Rubio knows to do and so he will likely be back again.
Stephen Colbert also gives him a send-off.