Florida primary: Marco Rubio drops out of presidential race after defeat in his home state

Senator bows to the inevitable after drubbing from rival Donald Trump

The cadences of Marco Rubio were as confident and as sharp as ever. But after 11 months pursuing the ultimate brass ring, the young Florida senator conceded that with the loss of his own state it was game over.

"It is clear that while we are on the right side, this year we will not be on the winning side”, he said.

The eloquence of his surrender perhaps spoke to the length of time he had to prepare for it. While he had promised even on Monday he would pull off a miracle and defeat Donald Trump on his own turf, he was surely reading the same polls as the rest of us. The Trump bulldozer was going to crush him.

Addressing disappointed supporters in Miami, Mr Rubio confirmed that he was ending his campaign for president after suffering what, according to the early precinct results, would be a drubbing from the billionaire from New York. “Today my campaign is suspended,” he said plainly. Only hours before his aides had insisted the senator would be on the trail in Utah on Wednesday. Few believed it then.

“While this may not have been the year for a hopeful and optimistic message about our future, I still remain hopeful and optimistic about America,“ Mr Rubio, elected the US Senate on a Tea Party tide six years ago, told the assembled crowd.

Referencing Mr Trump, whose surging popularity had already torpedoed the campaign of the former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush, the Senator intimated that his own demise had perhaps been inevitable. “America is in the middle of a real political storm, a real tsunami and we should have seen this coming,“ Mr Rubio said. I ask the American people: do not give into fear”.

When exactly was it in this neck-jerking primary season that the so-called “establishment” of the Republican Party believed that Mr Rubio, 44, was going to be the guy who would finally take Mr Trump out and push Senator Ted Cruz, who they disdain almost as much, into the ditch along the way? It can’t have been after New Hampshire when he was savaged on the debate stage by Governor Chris Christie. 

That moment did happen, but it fizzled before it had properly ignited. The truth was that Mr Rubio, a man who had worn his presidential ambitions on his sleeve almost from the day he was sent to Washington, never looked like he could be the nominee. We knew it on Super Tuesday when Minnesota gave him his sole victory. His other wins: Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

Was it his seeming youth?  In fact, he is barely younger than Senator Cruz, another first term Senator. Or was it that title: Republicans remember that Mr Obama was in the Senate when he won election. In their eyes, that did not end so well. Or was it those boot heels he sported back in early winter?

It may not have helped that he himself had wavered in offering voters a positive message. Even before the Iowa caucuses he was beginning to use fear rather than hope to energise supporters, catching the habit from Mr Trump. Then a couple of weeks ago he went completely off the reservation returning the personal insults of Mr Trump with equal bile. Suggesting that his rival had small hands he offered the vulgar innuendo about another body part of the New Yorker. He wondered out loud if The Donald had perhaps wet his trousers during one debate advertising break. Even some of his fans were disappointed.

But he might have been right to conclude that even at attempt at an uplifting campaign, however faltering, had no place in this year dominated by a candidate who has been widely accused of stirring popular fears and cultivating division. “People are angry, people are frustrated,“ he said in Miami, noting how easy it would have been – with another swipe at the Florida victor - to have fed and fueled that anger. ”I chose a different route and I'm proud of it.“

Yet Mr Rubio was also haunted by his participation with the bi-partisan Gang of Eight US Senators in 2012 to try to forge some kind of reasonable and compassionate immigration reform bill that night have allowed some undocumented citizens to remain in America. He ran away from it later when conservatives on Capitol Hill rebelled, but not quickly enough and many among the Party’ base never forgot or forgave. 

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