After condemning Donald Trump in a speech earlier this month, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney took an all-of-the-above approach to stopping the Republican front-runner from picking up the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination. He campaigned for John Kasich in Ohio last week and offered to do the same for Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida.
But although Kasich did win his home state, Romney is now jumping ship. On Friday, ahead of the potentially winner-take-all Utah caucuses, the favorite son is going all-in for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
In a statement on his Facebook page, Romney, the party's 2012 presidential nominee, announced he would be supporting Cruz not just in Utah, but in all future contests as well. Lest there be any confusion, Romney offered praise for Kasich but indicated the time had come to pick just one candidate to stop Trump. Here's the statement:
This week, in the Utah nominating caucus, I will vote for Senator Ted Cruz.
Today, there is a contest between Trumpism and Republicanism. Through the calculated statements of its leader, Trumpism has become associated with racism, misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia, vulgarity and, most recently, threats and violence. I am repulsed by each and every one of these.
The only path that remains to nominate a Republican rather than Mr. Trump is to have an open convention. At this stage, the only way we can reach an open convention is for Senator Cruz to be successful in as many of the remaining nominating elections as possible.
I like Governor John Kasich. I have campaigned with him. He has a solid record as governor. I would have voted for him in Ohio. But a vote for Governor Kasich in future contests makes it extremely likely that Trumpism would prevail.
I will vote for Senator Cruz and I encourage others to do so as well, so that we can have an open convention and nominate a Republican.
Some good news for Sen. Ted Cruz today: He finally got a second senate colleague to endorse him. According to CNN, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham will endorse and raise money for the Texas conservative, as part of a last-gasp effort by Republicans in Washington to stop Donald Trump from winning the party's nomination.
Graham wasn't much help to his previous pick, Jeb Bush, though. And, given the former presidential candidate's past comments about Cruz, his endorsement doesn't carry much weight. It does, however, display the increasing desperation of the Republican establishment. Just last month, Graham told Wolf Blitzer that, "If you're a Republican and your choice is Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in a general election, it's the difference between poisoned or shot—you're still dead." In that same interview, Graham said Cruz was worse than President Barack Obama on foreign policy. A few weeks later, he'd taken an even darker turn. "If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate and the trial was in the Senate," Graham told a group of journalists, "no one would convict you."
When Marco Rubio first ran for Senate in 2010, the New York Times magazine billed him on its cover as "the first senator from the tea party," an insurgent candidate who seized on the dissatisfaction rank-and-file conservatives had for their leadership in Washington and would move the party hard to the right. Rubio had a lot of things going for him in that campaign—he was young, good looking, bilingual, and well schooled in conservative dogma—but the biggest advantage of all was that the people with the pitchforks were on his side. Of Rubio's opponent in that race, then-Gov. Charlie Crist, the Times offered an ominous and prescient judgment: "He may not be angry enough to win a Republican primary this year."
Now, after finishing behind Donald Trump by double digits in his home state of Florida on Tuesday, Rubio is effectively toast. He has no chance at picking up the 1,237 delegates needed for the nomination, and he lacks the gravitational pull to even play the role of spoiler. Rubio spent more time in the Sunshine State than any other candidate over the past week, virtually ignoring the other winner-take-all states that voted Tuesday, in the hopes of a miracle that never materialized. The delegate math doesn't lie; when his Senate term expires in January, he'll be out of a job.
There are many reasons why Rubio flamed out of the presidential race after winning just one state (plus Puerto Rico and Washington, DC). He should have probably tried harder to win an early primary state, rather than banking on picking up delegates down the road; it would have been smart to take on Trump before he was the odds-on favorite for the nomination; and it didn't help that his old friend Jeb Bush spent millions of dollars to tear Rubio apart. But the epitaph for Rubio's presidential bid comes down to this: He wasn't angry enough to win a Republican primary this year.
Voter rage swept Rubio into the Senate in 2010 as part of a tea party revolution. But after six years, the rage is back and the archconservative candidates who rode the tea party wave to victory are now the establishment bums whom voters are looking to purge. In Rubio's case, his sin was easy to pinpoint. Every Trump and Cruz voter I spoke with this week in Florida voted for Rubio when he ran in the Republican Senate primary six years ago. But nearly all of them cited the same reason when I asked why they weren't backing Rubio's presidential bid—two years ago, he was part of the "Gang of Eight" in the Senate that attempted to negotiate a bipartisan compromise on immigration reform.
At the time, it seemed like the right thing for an up-and-coming Republican to do; the party's autopsy after the 2012 presidential election had warned that unless Republicans could take some credit for meaningful immigration reform, it would continue to be doomed among Hispanic voters. But just as Crist's sins of moderation doomed him against the insurgent Rubio, Rubio's hint of empathy for undocumented immigrants put him on the wrong side of a popular uprising. In 2010, it was the tea party; in 2016, it was Trump.
He didn't do himself many favors. For much of his campaign, Rubio was on-message to a fault. His stump speech rarely changed and his debate performances sounded canned. If you wanted to pinpoint the moment his slide truly became irreversible, when the Stench started to emanate from his campaign, it was at the last debate before the New Hampshire primary, when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie mocked Rubio for repeating the same line three different times. At first Rubio played it off as a strength; then he pledged to never do it again.
In the last week, though, he changed things up. After spending months insisting that all was well no matter how many states he lost, Rubio began telling crowds that he didn't fear defeat, because what's the worst thing that could happen—he'd just look for a new job. And for the first time since entering the race last summer, he ripped into Trump, the Republican front-runner, not just for the things that make Trump unpalatable to the Republican National Committee, but for the things that make him unpalatable to normal people. Rubio compared Trump to a "third-world" strongman and accused him of fostering a climate of hate and violence. His press conference on Saturday ahead of a rally in Largo was one of the most unvarnished moments of the entire campaign:
It was a brief glimpse of the Rubio that made Democrats sweat—a normal-ish guy who delivers his lines well if you wind him up properly—but Rubio's last-minute awakening was also an appropriate symbol of the Republican Party as a whole. He spent most of his race acting as if Trump didn't exist and fending off attacks from virtually every other candidate, and when he woke up to the existential threat to his career, it was too late. Sooner or later, the mob comes for us all.
The Villages appears to be one of the happiest places on Earth. So why are its residents all-in for the candidate of rage?
Tim MurphyMar. 15, 2016 11:28 AM
The largest retirement community in the United States is home to 49 golf courses, dozens of restaurants, a college, an app, and three movie theaters spread across three counties in an area larger than Manhattan. Since the first trailers popped up in cattle country an hour north of Orlando, Florida, four decades ago, the Villages has swelled to a population of more than 114,000 people; almost all are over the age of 55, white, and drive around the community in golf carts that can be outfitted to resemble taxis, fire trucks, or tanks. Residents refer to the place as "Disney for adults."
In addition to being one of the most quintessentially Florida places on Earth, the Villages is one of the most Republican places in Florida. For years its politics were dominated by H. Gary Morse, the late conservative megadonor who built the community and helped send Marco Rubio to the Senate six years ago and Mitt Romney to the nomination in 2012. On Tuesday night, voters there will go a long way toward determining who comes away with the state's 99 delegates. Rubio, who spoke to an overflow crowd at a rec center here on Sunday, is staking his political future on a strong showing. But lately, everything is turning up Trump.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Saturday told Republicans in Florida that Donald Trump is promoting the kind of "hate" that can lead to violence, and reminded them of the shooting of black churchgoers in Charleston last year.
Haley was speaking at a county GOP dinner in The Villages, the world's largest retirement community, on behalf of Sen. Marco Rubio. Like Rubio, who tore into Trump (and his protesters) at an earlier event in Tampa, Haley wanted voters to think hard about the footage of Trump rallies they'd seen on TV.
"I just want to be honest about the leader we have now," she told the almost exclusively senior-citizen crowd. "After seeing what happened in Chicago, after seeing what happened in North Carolina, after seeing what happened in Ohio, we are are seeing a division that is not us. That is not who we are as Republicans. And we are seeing a division that is dangerous. We are seeing a division that's got hate to it. And I want to tell you what that division can mean."
She reminded the audience of Walter Scott, an African American man who was shot and killed by a police officer last April in North Charleston. "Everyone wanted to come in and riot, [but] the Scott family gave us the opportunity to right a wrong," Haley explained. "And we stood with the Walter Scott family a month to the day and signed the first body camera bill in the country. The Republicans of South Carolina did. And that was showing—we didn't protest; we solved the problem, and we got it right and we did it together."
Then Haley brought up the mass shooting a few months later at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, mentioning three of the victims—Ethel Lance, Tywanza Sanders, and Cynthia Hurd—by name. There, too, Haley said, the families of the victims encouraged unity, not division.
"The reason why I'm telling you that story," she said, "is we have someone running for president who instead of bringing [people] back together like we did in South Carolina, he's telling his supporters to punch a guy in the face! He's telling them if they don't do the right thing to carry him out on a stretcher. He's telling them to say, do it again. He's not denouncing the KKK when this is exactly the same group that protested on my statehouse grounds. We can't have Donald Trump as president! We can't."
Haley's remarks to that point were one of the toughest condemnations of Trump from a fellow Republican this campaign. But as with Rubio, who couldn't bring himself to say he wouldn't support Trump as the nominee, Haley hedged just enough to undermine the whole thing. "It's not that I think there's anything wrong with Mr. Trump," she said, acknowledging the large number of Trump supporters in the room. "He's a supporter. He supported me in my race. It's just lack of judgment."
Nor would she say Trump was necessarily wrong in blaming protesters for the violence in Chicago. "We don't need to blame—I'm not saying it's not the protesters' fault," she said. "It takes two people to fight. But leadership is being able to say we are a country that needs to unite. We have had a divider-in-chief for seven years. We don't need another. We need someone who's gonna say, show your passion, show your energy, show it in the right way. But don't do it with violence, don't do it with outrage, don't do it with hate."
Then Haley headed off to deliver another speech to another Lincoln dinner, part of a frantic scramble by the Rubio campaign to shore up his base of support ahead of Tuesday's primary. But his campaign's newfound courage in attacking the front-runner may be a little too late: An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll on Sunday showed Trump with a 21-point lead.