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.
"Every movement in human history that has been founded on that argument has been a dangerous and disastrous one."
Tim MurphyMar. 12, 2016 1:26 PM
On Friday night, Donald Trump's three remaining Republican opponents seemed to finally realize that they can't ignore the sometimes violent chaos of the front-runner's campaign rallies. On Saturday morning in Largo, Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio launched a new line of attack on that issue—while going after the protesters too.
On one of the final days of early voting*, and four days before polls close in the critical winner-take-all state, the Florida senator ripped into Trump as a "dangerous" "Twitter troll" who was promoting a culture of violence and potentially damaging the Republican party's reputation for a generation. It was the toughest critique of the campaign from Rubio—but he delivered it in a way that co-opted Trump's own attacks on those who disagree with him.
"Last night in Chicago we saw images that make America look like a third-world country," Rubio told the crowd, referring to the protests and scuffles that resulted in the cancellation of Trump's scheduled rally. "I am by no means telling you that the people that showed up at that rally to disrupt it are blameless—they are clearly professional agitators, most of them." The protesters, he argued, showed up with the intent "of disrupting an event for a speaker they don't agree with," as part of a "a developing trend among the American left that if we don't like what you're talking about, we're gonna disrupt your event, we're gonna blow up your event. And they've done it at college campuses all across America. So I am by no means saying that they are blameless. They were acting like thugs last night, too many of them."
Then he turned his fire on Trump. "The job of a true leader is not to say 'I know you are in pain so what I am going to do is I am going to use your pain you make you even more painful, more angry, so that you vote for me instead of someone else,' because when you do that there are consequences," he said. He continued:
There are consequences to [Trump's rhetoric] and they're playing out before our very eyes. What I saw last night but in the days before—put aside last night. We have a major presidential candidate that basically encourages people in the crowd to beat up on people that protest against him. We don't have to boo, I'm just telling you that's what happening. That's what's happening. And don't tell me that he's not, I don't want anyone to say that he's not, because he is. The other day a guy sucker-punched a guy at one of his events. Look, I have protesters, they are obnoxious. Some are paid to be there. Some are just people speaking their minds and they have the right to do it. But never in my wildest dreams have I ever thought that it would be a good idea for someone to punch the guy or gal in the face. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would say punch them in the face and I will pay your legal fees. And it's gotten worse than that. After he punched him in the face, the gentleman was arrested. I shouldn't say gentleman—the guy was arrested. And as soon as he was released, the guy said, next time we should kill him. And no condemnation. Guys, there are consequences to this.
A few minutes later, he offered an even more ominous warning about Trump, invoking past moments "in human history." It's easy to "see peoples' anger and frustration and to prey upon them," Rubio said.
It's very easy to go to people who are hurting and say 'I know you're hurting, I know you're angry, you should be angry, I want you to be angry, I'm angry too, let's be angry together because the bad things that are happening to you are their fault. It's their fault. It's someone else’s fault. And so give me power so we can go after the people who have made you angry. Give me power so we can go after the people who have made your life bad.' It's very easy to say that. Every movement in human history that has been founded on that argument has been a dangerous and disastrous one for the country.
Rubio didn't specify which historical leaders Trump reminded him of. But at one point in his riff, a supporter shouted out, "He reminds me of [Hugo] Chavez!"
The speech marked a major shift in Rubio's campaign, which at times has veered toward self-deprecating stand-up comedy, and in recent weeks, personal jabs at Trump's appearance. (In Largo, he again expressed regret at past comments about Trump.) It was serious, and it was focused. Many of the attendees told me they'd ruled out voting for Trump in November and would stay home if he were the nominee. John Proni, an accountant from Largo, told me a Hispanic girl in his daughters' grade-school class had been bullied by kids who told her she'll be deported when Trump is president. "He is everything I teach my kids not to be," Proni said. "I was aghast at what I saw," he said of the Chicago rally. "That's not making America great again, that's making America racist again." When I asked another supporter, Bob Davis, about Trump, he gave me a reading list. "Sinclair Lewis, It Can't Happen Here," about a fictional fascist presidential candidate. "It Can't Happen Here is almost Trump's campaign platform."
But Rubio never went as far as his supporters in pledging to stay home—even as he told reporters before he took the stage that "it's getting harder every day" to think of supporting Trump in November. That, in a nutshell, was what he left his audience with in his speech. Trump was a demagogue and a con man—but the "left" might still be worse.
*Correction: Early voting ends Sunday in parts of South Florida.
There's a pattern to the way Hillary Clinton's campaign has discussed Bernie Sanders' leftist politics: long periods of silence punctured by the occasional drive-by when Sanders creeps too close in the polls. Clinton backer Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) first mused in June that Sanders was getting a pass on his socialism from the media, after her Senate colleague's stadium-filling megarallies offered the first hint that he posed a serious threat. Then there was peace again, until January. With the Clinton campaign slipping in Iowa and New Hampshire, McCaskill told the New York Times that Republicans "can't wait to run an ad with a hammer and sickle." Clinton surrogate David Brock warned ominously that Sanders' comments on the capitalist system in the 1980s would doom him in November.
At Wednesday night's Democratic presidential debate in Miami, coming off a stunning loss to Sanders in Michigan, Clinton opened up the research drawer her surrogates had riffled through before. It started when Univision anchor María Elena Salinas asked Sanders to explain how his brand of democratic socialism differed from that practiced in places like Nicaragua and Cuba. Then she played a clip of a press conference Sanders held in 1985, in which he praised Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and suggested the United States had misjudged Fidel Castro. Did he regret it?
Sanders didn't quite answer, but Clinton ran with it. "I think in that same interview, he praised what he called the 'revolution of values' in Cuba and talked about how people were working for the common good, not for themselves," she said. "I just couldn't disagree more. You know, if the values are that you oppress people, you disappear people, you imprison people or even kill people for expressing their opinions, for expressing freedom of speech, that is not the kind of revolution of values that I ever want to see anywhere."
It was one of Clinton's most direct attacks yet on Sanders' embrace of leftist politics (although, in Sanders' defense, Castro had himself replaced an American-backed regime that oppressed, imprisoned, and tortured people). By the next day, however, she'd dropped the issue. Clinton held her first post-debate rally in Ybor City, Tampa's historic Cuban neighborhood, which would have been an obvious setting to continue this line of criticism. The Cuban independence leader José Martí organized cigar workers there, and the Cuban government still owns a small park celebrating Martí down the street from the venue where Clinton spoke. But Clinton made no mention of Castro or Ortega or socialism or Cuba. She hardly mentioned her opponent at all.
There's a good reason why Clinton's reprisals of Cold War politics don't stick around for long: Voters don't really seem to care about Cold War politics. Castro is not a popular figure, but it's harder to turn him into a bogeyman in a Democratic primary when it was the popular Democratic president who normalized relations with the Castro government (and a president for whom Clinton served as secretary of state). The fights over the Sandinistas in Nicaragua that once tore the left apart are recent history only in the context of geologic time—the young voters Clinton says she's hoping to win over weren't even alive for it, and the median age at a Sanders event in Florida this week hovers around 20. When I asked one young attendee at Clinton's Ybor City event about Sanders and Ortega, she told me she didn't know anything about Ortega and would have to look him up.
The clearest sign of the demise of Cold War politics in Florida, though, came from the party that's historically been most enthusiastic about reprising it. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) didn't bring up Castro either at his speech to the largely Cuban American audience in Miami on Wednesday, at a college across the street from a piece of the actual Berlin Wall. And although he and Rubio both trashed President Barack Obama's new diplomatic relationship with Cuba at the final Republican debate before the Florida primary, one candidate held firm in defense of ending the trade embargo: the odds-on favorite to win the state, Donald Trump. "After 50 years, it's enough time, folks," he said, before promising to "make a good deal" with the Cubans. Even the king of bluster thinks the bluster about Castro has run its course. Florida voters appear to agree.