"We should have seen this coming," Marco Rubio told his followers tonight.
He didn't mean the failure of his presidential campaign, which the Florida senator just suspended after failing to beat Donald Trump in his home state. He meant the tide of frustration that had thrust Trump into the lead for the Republican Party's nomination. Rubio started his speech by reeling off some of the complaints that have powered the mogul's movement—anger about immigration and economic insecurity and what Rubio called "self-proclaimed elitists"—and he declared that if he'd run a Trump-style campaign based on all that, it would have been "the easiest way to win." (Now he tells us!) But instead, he said, he had taken the high road and preached the path of hope and opportunity. Translated from campaign rhetoric, that means he'd pushed a mix of Club for Growth economics and neoconservative foreign policy.
There was a time when a lot of pundits thought this man would be the Republican nominee. Sure, they conceded, he wasn't getting many actual votes, but once Jeb Bush and Scott Walker and Chris Christie were gone, Rubio was the Last Man Standing for the Republican establishment, whatever "Republican establishment" means these days. And at that point, surely donors and voters who can't stomach Trump would coalesce behind him…right?
It sounded plausible. I thought it was possible myself: As recently as two weeks ago, I figured Rubio had a better shot at the nomination than Ted Cruz did. But the votes just weren't there. After Rubio was anointed the Last Man Standing, his numbers in a lot of states actually went down instead of up. Apparently, anti-Trump voters preferred Cruz—or even John Kasich, once an also-ran, now rising into third place.
What did Rubio offer, really? He was young and Hispanic, but that's an image, not a platform. The closest he came to proposing something innovative in the economic realm was a tax plan that would give a big bump to the child tax credit, a feature that set off a flurry of excitement among the "reform conservatives" but didn't seem to catch fire anywhere else. From a libertarian perspective, he was less of an ogre on immigration than Cruz and Trump—not that that's a high bar to clear—but also much more of an ogre on war.
And now the alleged Last Man Standing is out. The GOP field is down to Trump, Cruz, and Kasich. Establishment types can rally behind Kasich, who doesn't have much of a shot; or rally around Cruz, who they hate; or resign themselves to Trump; or put all their chips on someone new arriving at a contested convention; or bolt for a third party. They can even act like Democrats and settle for Hillary. But they won't be able to store their hopes in Marco Rubio anymore.