After a devastating primary loss in his home state of Florida, Marco Rubio officially suspended his campaign for the Republican nomination, making way for Trump and Cruz to duke things out. Having come so far, Rubio’s concession was certainly bittersweet, and as the young senator said, “[he’s] just not what the electorate wanted this year.”
But many pundits are hard-pressed for answers in the aftermath of a recent sweep of primaries in Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio, and Missouri. Trump scored a resounding victory, garnering the majority of delegates even as Governor Kasich nabbed the most in his home state. So why didn’t Rubio—an even fiercer contender—pull through?
Experts agree that despite his promising numbers through February and early March, Rubio made a clear series of mistakes that culminated in his unfortunate loss in the Florida primary.
At the onset, young buck Marco seemed a fresh, relevant face on the campaign circuit. In the wake of Trump’s controversial gaffes on immigration and minorities, Rubio’s origin story had its appeal.
A Cuban-American raised in Miami, the now 44-year-old often spoke of his hard-working parents who toiled away at menial jobs as he racked up his own $100,000 in student loan debt. Both relatable and seemingly likeable, the Republican establishment gravitated toward Rubio from the start. A sort of blue-collar immigrant champion, he proved a far cry from the rich, privileged air of a Romney.
When Jeb Bush dropped, everyone thought Marco was the GOP’s new pet. Charles Krauthammer, esteemed Fox News contributor, even compared the candidate to John F. Kennedy.
So, what sparked Rubio’s road to ruin?
Many say that inklings of his demise were present well before the big loss in Florida. Early in the debate season, Rubio strategically ignored the Donald, electing to target other established politicians like Bush and Cruz. This grave error would come back to haunt him.
At the New Hampshire debate, the contender hit a roadblock when aggressive New Jersey Governor Chris Christie pointed out his robotic delivery. With so many—almost too many—formal debates taking place this election cycle, there’s no doubt viewers noticed his repetitive talking points.
Rubio recited his one-liners on the American dream almost verbatim. His prepared speech on Obama “knowing exactly what he’s doing” was repeated an embarrassing four times. Even his joking asides and jabs at other candidates were stale.
Instead of backing Rubio’s safe, rehearsed approach—Americans recoiled, favoring Trump’s candor.
The subtle floundering didn’t stop there. At the debate in Houston, Rubio’s handlers must have changed their approach, now going straight for Trump’s throat. Partially baited by the media, but more so present in his speeches before supporters, Marco began a full-blown personal attack on the Donald.
Alluding to Trump’s “small hands,” and by extension, other parts of his body, the tone of the senator’s rhetoric suddenly plunged down into the gutter. The once harmless Rubio, a well-spoken and intelligent guy, came off as desperate.
On whether or not he was stooping to the frontrunner’s level, Marco told NPR, “That’s not even possible to be as crude as Trump.” But perhaps that’s not the point.
In short, Rubio’s downfall was the perfect storm of ruin. Considering the momentum he lost when Kasich surged on Super Tuesday, the Florida newcomer’s canned delivery wasn’t solely to blame. But by ignoring Trump and focusing all his recent attention on a disinterested Florida, Rubio effectively put the nail in his campaign coffin.
So what happens now to those few delegates—and voters—who backed the early GOP sweetheart?
In wake of his derailed campaign, Rubio will contribute 169 more votes to the growing pot of now unassigned delegates. As the senator returns to his day job, he’s yet to endorse a fellow candidate for the nomination. But if and when he does, those delegates may prove irrelevant.
Some states mandate their representatives to back the original candidate regardless if he or she drops, while others, like South Carolina, must vote for the second place finisher. In many cases, those delegates act as free agents, so the question’s up for whether or not Marco’s secession will influence the race.
As for Rubio’s on-the-ground admirers, polls show promise for Cruz. Almost 60% of respondents said they would support the Texas senator if Rubio was out, while barely 15% moved over to Trump’s camp.
The other 25%?
They said they wouldn’t have voted at all.