As I feared, Tuesday was an especially disheartening night in the presidential primary saga. While it’s good that John Kasich won in Ohio and Ted Cruz remained competitive in several states, Donald Trump still keeps winning primaries, and the chances of preventing him from becoming the Republican nominee seem to keep dwindling. While there is plenty to say about the race as a whole, for now I want to focus on Marco Rubio, who suspended his campaign after Trump won the Florida primary.
Even though most recent polling had shown Trump to have a big lead in Florida, I was hoping that people would turn in a different direction when actually voting and that, somehow, the results would be different. Alas, that did not happen. In terms of the election, it’s not helpful that Trump was able to add Florida’s 99 delegates to his total. On a more human level, though, I really wished for a better exit for Senator Rubio. I can’t imagine how painful it must be to have the voters in your home state, which you have served in office for years, prefer someone with the “qualifications” and temperament of Donald Trump by a large margin. My heart goes out to Senator Rubio, and I’m glad that his family was close by for support during what must have been a very tough time.
Despite the difficult circumstances, Rubio left the race with one last emotional speech. In it, he gave thanks to his family, his supporters, and God. He once again shared part of his immigrant family’s story of American success and eloquently reminded listeners ot the message of hope and optimism for our future around which he’d based his campaign. Rubio encouraged Americans to embrace a positive approach to solving our problems rather than giving in to fear and anger, and he concluded by asking God to strengthen the nation and its people, the conservative movement, the Republican party, and the eventual nominee and to bless the United States. The address was an example of the type of inspirational conservatism and patriotism that many consider to be particular strengths of Senator Rubio. Supporters envisioned that these qualities could potentially be very effective at winning people over in a general election, but, obviously, much of the public would rather hear far less lofty talk right now.
Senator Ted Cruz said some very nice things about Senator Rubio in his post-election remarks on Tuesday, and I appreciated his comments. While I find it sad for Marco Rubio’s campaign to end this way, the senator also has plenty of detractors who will be happy to see him go. I’m sure there will be no shortage of articles and commentary discussing the real or perceived flaws of the candidate and his campaign, some more objective than others. In fact, the not-so-subtly hostile columns already started weeks ago. For my part, I’ll just say that, considering the extent to which liberal leanings and institutions pervade our society, having any significant number of conservatives in positions of influence should not be taken for granted. So, while no political figure is perfect and we can certainly prefer different presidential candidates, I find it very disappointing that some conservatives would take pleasure in the misfortunes of one of their own.
Since the events of this presidential race have been increasingly stressful, perhaps stepping aside could prove to be a bit of a relief, at least for the moment, for Senator Rubio, who seemed quite distressed this past weekend while discussing the growing tensions in the political discourse of our country and the outbreaks of violence that have taken place at recent Trump rallies. He also seemed to be struggling to determine the right course of action going forward on matters such as the ubiquitous question from the media as to whether he would still support Donald Trump as the Republican nominee. (What should take precedence -- party loyalty and an ill-conceived pledge of support or one’s own judgment of a troubling candidate?) Most of the time, we see the public personas that candidates want to present, but sometimes there are other glimpses that may tell us more about a person running for office. The interviews that Rubio did last weekend, for example, certainly seemed to show that he is genuinely concerned about some of the things happening in our political and broader culture, and that’s good to know. I also think that the regret Senator Rubio has expressed over his decision to briefly answer Donald Trump’s insulting rhetoric with some insults of his own speaks well of him. (For the record, I think much of the media discussion of the episode makes it seem worse than it was, but it always did seem rather out of place in Rubio’s campaign.)
One could always choose to be cynical and question how much of what politicians say is truly what they believe rather than an attempt to sway voters, but, whatever the motivation behind Marco Rubio’s statements the last few weeks, I’ve been glad to hear a lot of the things he’s said coming from one (or more, in some cases) of the presidential candidates. Since I’ve been agitatedly writing about the situation for months, it’s no surprise that I agreed with his comments about the importance of preventing Donald Trump from hijacking the conservative movement and the Republican party. More recently, I found his descriptions of the way Trump is trying to manipulate people’s frustration and anger to gain power for himself to sound quite accurate. Also, while we’ve heard often that people respond to some of the controversial things Donald Trump says because he is supposedly standing up against the dreaded phenomenon of “political correctness,” it seems that those who say this have expanded the meaning of the phrase far too much. I thought that Rubio put it very well the other day when he said that: “Politically correct is one thing. It shouldn’t keep you from saying truth. But another thing is to be rude, and obnoxious, and offensive.”
Throughout Marco Rubio’s campaign, he offered the voters policy proposals, a constructive vision for the country, experience in the work of government, and a positive outlook. The fact that the public hasn’t seemed to value those things, from him or from many other serious candidates, during this presidential cycle is highly unfortunate, but I think that Rubio should still feel good about running for president as a candidate of substance in a race that somehow became a reality show. I don’t know to what extent we may continue to hear from Senator Rubio in some capacity as the campaign goes on, or what career path he will choose starting next year. I do believe that he has the ability to be an important voice for conservatism, and I hope that we haven’t heard the last of that voice in the public square.