[crscore]Marco Rubio[/crscore]’s campaign for president hit a new low on Tuesday night when he failed to gain a single delegate in three states and massively under-performed the polls.
Coming off disappointing results in last week’s Super Tuesday and Super Saturday contests and now amid worries Donald Trump may now be unstoppable, some of Rubio’s most ardent supporters are now calling upon the Florida senator to drop out in order to derail Trump’s bid for the White House.
Townhall editor and Fox News contributor Guy Benson even drew up a speech for Rubio to deliver at Thursday’s debate announcing his departure from the race in which he states his support for both Cruz and Kasich.
It’s a little odd for the candidate that conservative pundits so adored and predicted would win the primary by a landslide to now be seen as completely toast. Many of these writers and campaign strategists were the same ones spinning his third place finishes as victories only a few weeks ago and guaranteed that Rubio would eventually rise as the predominant candidate.
That never took place and now we’re left with the ruins of an overly-hyped campaign.
While the recovering Rubio fans may point to various minute points for why their man didn’t succeed, the real reason Marco didn’t catch steam in 2016 can be discerned when you compare the messages of the two leading candidates with that of the junior senator from Florida.
There are undoubtedly many differences between Donald Trump and [crscore]Ted Cruz[/crscore] that relate both to style and policy positions, but both candidates actually have much in common. They both portray themselves as immigration hardliners who will tackle an issue government elites have failed to resolve. They both tout their status as anti-establishment insurgents. They both rail against Washington and promise to dramatically shake things up if elected president.
But most importantly, both Trump and Cruz say their candidacies are the last hopes for America to save itself from impending doom.
Trump’s ubiquitous slogan is “Make America Great Again” — strongly implying the country is not at the moment — and declares he’s the only one who can revive the “dead” American Dream. Cruz warns about the grave dangers of not electing someone who is a consistent conservative and harps on how the nation is moving treacherously away from the Constitution. A few of the Texas senator’s surrogates manage to take a even more dire tone with declarations that he’s the only candidate who can lead America through the upcoming Rapture.
There’s a lot of doom and gloom throughout Trump’s and Cruz’s rhetoric, however, it seems to have connected in a big way with Republican voters.
In contrast, Rubio has gone with an “aspirational” message which paints America as a land with a few minor problems that can be solved with just a few policy changes. The American Dream is alive and well in Rubio’s rhetoric, it just needs a few changes to the tax code and a more active foreign policy.
Unsurprisingly, pretty much the only counties the establishment favorite has won so far are enclaves of wealth and economic security. Even though Rubio’s supporters often boast of how he can reach out to new demographics and the man himself has said he can speak to those living from paycheck to paycheck, the data shows he’s only reaching solidly Republican suburbanites.
There are some important lessons to learn from the decline of Marco Rubio and the popularity of Trump and Cruz. No, it isn’t that the Republican Party needs superdelegates and needs to eliminate open primaries to prevent the unwashed hordes from voicing their opinion. It’s that the agenda set out by the party establishment is totally out-of-touch with the mood of the voters.
The famous autopsy report issued after Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election presented a platform that stuck to orthodoxy on fiscal and foreign policy, but proposed changes to social positions and an embrace of immigration reform. The theme of the autopsy was that the GOP should accept the new America with its new demographics and new culture. The party’s new primary objective was to appeal to Hispanics, gays, African-Americans and a whole host of other groups that don’t vote Republican. The party’s core demographic was expected to go along with these changes without complaint.
Rubio clearly took inspiration for his campaign from the report, and so did Jeb Bush and Rick Perry in their respective 2016 bids. All three candidates sought to emit large amounts of sunny optimism and proclamations about how America’s best days lay ahead.
But the base, as judged by their votes for Trump and Cruz, seem to be relaying their anxiety over a rapidly changing America.. Polls show that a solid majority of Republicans feel like a stranger in their own country and see the nation’s best days are in the past.
That’s not a feeling that lends support for “Morning in America” talk, nor should it.
As a result, the two candidates who remain viable choices for the Republican nomination (barring brokered convention shenanigans) are men who’ve tapped into that growing unease and have rejected the premises of the GOP’s 2012 autopsy.
The only question that remains is: will the GOP establishment learn from this campaign, or will it stick its head in the sand and hope their preferred agenda works out better next time?