Column: Big lessons from 'Little Marco'

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks during a Republican primary night celebration rally at Florida International University in Miami, Fla., Tuesday, March 15, 2016. Rubio is ending his campaign for the Republican nomination for president after a humiliating loss in his home state of Florida. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

In the days leading up to this past Super Tuesday, it became increasingly clear that U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio would not win his home state of Florida in the GOP primary unless he vastly outperformed a series of grim polls.

Assuming the inevitability of his defeat, aptly described by Rubio himself as nothing less than a “political tsunami,” the question became not whether he would lose, but rather how he would respond.

Despite reassuring supporters he would make it to Cleveland and saying in a radio interview Monday that he planned on continuing to campaign in Utah no matter the results in Florida, Rubio formally dropped out of the race Tuesday night. 

As I watched Rubio’s concession speech, I was unsure and uncertain of how I felt about what I saw unfolding and what it meant for the race going forward – not to mention the value of any further predictions in such an unpredictable year.

First, seeing an emotional Rubio talk about his parents’ immigration story was certainly a touching moment for Democrats and Republicans alike, saying: “They never became rich… and yet I consider my parents to be very successful people.… And in this country, on this day, my mother, who is now 85 years old, was able to cast a ballot for her son to be the president of the United States of America.”

As Rubio continued, however, my mixed feelings solidified into both confusion and frustration. Rubio spoke movingly of the dangers of a “politics of resentment,” asking Americans not to give into fear which would only greater divide our nation.

The confusion came when he said he was proud of the campaign he ran, claiming he “chose a different route.” The frustration followed upon realizing that, as much as both Rubio and I wanted to believe this was true, it was not the case.

There are many reasons to speculate why Rubio’s presidential bid was ultimately unsuccessful, more than just writing the failure off as him being an establishment candidate in an anti-establishment year. It was in no large part due to Rubio compromising his campaign strategy and image as the “Republican savior,” predicted by Time Magazine in 2013, during increasingly personal attacks against Donald Trump, which he reflected upon saying, “My kids were embarrassed by it, and if I had to do it again I wouldn’t” He does not sound like he is very proud of it. 

One cannot pass judgment on whether Rubio genuinely believed he could be a unifier for his party and steer its message towards a more optimistic tone – these are noble pursuits. But, nonetheless, he fell short, and his loss in Florida is more than an electoral defeat; it is a defeat in principle.

Rubio likely regrets relying on the very fear he warned of after taking demonstrated efforts to portray his campaign positively. Only so much of his failure can be explained by his straying off course in the final weeks of his campaign; however, Rubio still made deliberate choices he ultimately paid the price for, while contributing to the deficit of true leadership in the GOP. 

With the tone of his concession speech, Rubio joins former nominee, Mitt Romney, as a hopeful “adult in the room” type leader in the Republican Party, seeking to change the party’s direction while relying on a degree of self-deception and denial that prevent them from taking full responsibility for their contributions.

The truth is as simple as this: it took the Republican Party far too long to denounce Trump, which not only contributed to his rise, but also highlighted an absence of leadership and presidential-level integrity for any of the GOP nominees.

No matter how hard Rubio or others tried to take the high road towards the end, the failure to confront Trump early on removed any credibility or legitimacy – and showed a lack of cohesion that their electorate was able to easily see through. 

Of course, it’s all relative. It is troubling how a candidate who is against same-sex marriage and considers pro-choice Democrats extremists can call himself a “unifier.” The only potential positive of Trump’s rise, is the possibility of confronting the reality and consequences of the anti-government, anti-everything movement and focusing on how we can address it.

We must remind ourselves it is not reflective of who we are as a nation. So, watching Rubio speak Tuesday night, I, as a Democrat, wondered which, if any, is better: to continue to see his campaign trudge on as a slight semblance of promise for the GOP, or appreciate the brutal diagnosis of this primary in his concession speech – the honesty of which, while grim, was actually quite refreshing.


Marissa Piccolo is associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marissa.piccolo@uconn.edu. She tweets @marissapiccolo.