Sometimes one fact solves a complex riddle. Before he dropped out Tuesday night, I struggled over the course of the campaign to understand why Marco Rubio didn’t fare better in the Republican primary.
If the Republican Party could have ordered the perfect 2016 candidate out of a catalog, it would have been The Rubio, a young, talented, sunny-messaged, conservative Latino senator from the ultimate swing state of Florida.
But Rubio’s planned crescendo from 3-2-1 finishes from Iowa to South Carolina and a sweep of the rest of the country devolved into a 3-5-2-you-don’t-want-to-know-the-rest mess that ended with an ugly loss to Donald Trump in his own state on Tuesday night.
What happened to Marco Rubio? Was it the New Hampshire debate? His spotty voting record in the Senate? His brief decent into Trump-fueled penis jokes?
The real, and surprisingly simple reason behind Rubio’s demise became clear to me last week recently when I saw an interview with the five-year mayor of Tampa, who said he’d never met Marco Rubio. Ever.
“I’ve been mayor for five years. He’s been the senator for four,” Mayor Bob Buckhorn told a local Florida station . “I understand he is a busy guy but you would think in the interest of doing his job and representing Florida that he would be interested in what Tampa’s issues are.”
It turns out that Rubio wasn’t just missing votes as a senator, he was missing almost the entire job of being a senator from Florida.
The theme of “no show” Rubio has come up again and again in my and others’ reporting on Rubio. At a Rubio event in Londonderry, N.H., I saw a retired fishing captain from Miami Beach who stood up to press Rubio on rising sea levels in Florida. He said he’d traveled to New Hampshire because that’s where he knew that’s where he knew he’d finally find the senator.
Michael Barnett, the Palm Beach County Republican chairman, told Bloomberg politics he’d invited Rubio to speak at the county’s Lincoln Day dinner every year, but Rubio never came . “He always turned us down for one reason or another. He has his priorities.”
When I reported a story for the Daily Beast last week on an ongoing environmental emergency in the state, angry constituents, many of them Republicans, told me they’d hardly seen Rubio in the area over the three years it’s been going on. (He went once.) The crisis is so bad several are considering selling their businesses and homes to escape. An angler told me his son had asked that morning, “What else is there to do but leave?”
Any congressional office knows it’s impossible to keep all of your constituents happy, but if Rubio wasn’t in Washington voting and he wasn’t in Florida as much as his constituents wanted him to be, where was he?
During his time in the Senate, Rubio traveled to 16 foreign countries , including North Korea, as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee or the Intelligence Committee.
He also headlined fundraisers for other Republicans in multiple states, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Connecticut. He keynoted NRA conventions in Nashville and Indiana, attended the Koch brothers’ confab in Southern California, and joined the American Enterprise Institute’s famously hushed meeting of heavyweights in Sea Island, Ga.. He spoke at event called Freedom Fest at Planet Hollywood on the Las Vegas strip and did a multi-state book tour, too. And of course he went to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina again and again and again.
The Missing-in-Action charge almost always comes up against any senator and governor running for president because they just aren’t in their states as much as they used to be. But the Rubio MIA charge has broader consequences for a Rubio who never built a reputation in Florida, let alone across the country, as anyone other than a man with enormous potential.
In a year when Donald Trump’s entire candidacy is premised against a broken political system, in which Washington politicians who put their own ambitions ahead of the people they represent, Marco Rubio not only lost to Trump. He did the heavy lifting of proving Donald Trump’s point, right in his own backyard.
The good news for Rubio is that voters’ memories can be short and comeback stories in American politics are plentiful. If he wants to reenter politics in the future, Rubio has the kind of talent that cannot be taught and the kind of story that won’t go away. If he wants to do the work in the future, it could all be his again.
But the bad news for him for now is, it’s over.
Patricia Murphy covers national politics for the Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill Bureau Chief for Politics Daily and was founder and editor of Citizen Jane. Follow her on Twitter at @1patriciamurphy.
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