Despite substantial press hype or initial backing, they did not win enough popular support to provide a formidable challenge to Donald Trump.
One of them, going head to head with Donald Trump from the beginning of the primary season, might have stopped Donald Trump in his tracks and given Republicans a more conventional race for the nomination. But there were too many of them, and they all had Achilles Heels or weaknesses that proved to be politically fatal.
Walker didn’t get beyond initial media hype. Paul couldn’t reconcile his father’s libertarianism with popular Republican primary positions like outlawing abortion, opposition to gay rights and foreign intervention.
Christie aroused suspicion among Republicans for his embrace of Obama in the final days of the 2012 campaign, and couldn’t promote himself as a successful governor given his unpopularity in New Jersey.
Jeb Bush couldn’t overcome the baggage of his brother’s presidency and last name. Kasich was viewed as a sell-out by the base of the Republican Party because he supported Obamacare and expansion of Medicaid health insurance for poor people.
Cruz couldn’t broaden his appeal beyond hard-core Christian fundamentalists.
Then there’s Rubio. He seemed too slick, too much like a Republican Obama, too robotic, too repetitive, too green, too fresh-faced and young for the older demographic of Republican Party voters. He couldn’t walk the tightrope in appealing to the nativist anti-immigration base of Republican primary voters while winning the support of pro-business groups that want a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
He didn’t have a solid base of support, even in Florida. Marco Rubio in 2010 won his Senate seat with only 49% of the vote in a three-man race. He may well have lost that race if he had one strong Democratic opponent instead of two opponents who divided Democrats and independents.
Upon his election, Rubio immediately decided to run for president, violating the first rule of politics: secure your base, and win a vote of confidence from people who know you best, in his case the people of Florida, in a 2016 re-election bid.
But he was bored in the US Senate, didn’t care enough to serve his constituents, and almost immediately after winning election, sought higher office. This reinforced voter cynicism that he was mostly out for himself, not to serve the people.
He since alienated his base with his support for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Abandoning the citizens of Florida, Rubio said he would not run for re-election to the Senate in 2016. That puts a Republican seat in danger of being lost. So he clearly put personal ambition ahead of the needs of his party. At the last minute, in June of 2016 after losing the presidential race, he changed his mind about the Senate, but we shall see if he wins re-election.
Lack of national experience was not an impediment to Barack Obama or for that matter, Abraham Lincoln. Obama served for 12 years in the state legislature, and Rubio served 10 years in the Florida House of Representatives, four of those as Speaker of the House.
At 42, he claimed to be the candidate of a new generation with new ideas, in contrast to Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, though we didn’t see enough of those “new ideas” to judge the substance of them. He gradually rolled out his agenda on a fairly impressive website, MarcoRubio.com.
Viewing it, one could see why he had a shot to the top tier of Republican candidates for the nomination. It opens with these words: “Why It’s Harder Than Ever to Achieve the American Dream: Bad Policy and Dramatic Change Have Made It Harder Than Ever for People to Achieve the American Dream. It’s Time for Our Policies to Reflect the Changing World We Live In. Yesterday is over and it’s time for a New American Century. Join me today.”
Nice non-ideological slogan, that no doubt has market-tested well to independent-minded voters. But what does he propose substantially? Republican voters turned out to be extremely skeptical.
Even Republican voters had no interest in his proposals to roll back Medicare and Social Security. He said that Medicare and Social Security “have weakened us as a people.” He called for a kind of Medicare voucher system, where sick people get flat fee payment for illness, rather than a guaranteed percentage payment. He wanted to raise the retirement age for social security. He called for a flax tax with only two brackets, raising the tax credit to $2500 for parents (significantly increasing the deficit) but not to low-income parents.
On foreign policy, he was a hawk in thrall to the neo-cons. He does not believe in global warming, or choice on abortion, opposed thaws in relations with Iran and Cuba.
He was supposed to be a great speaker, with lots of charisma, but then he famously choked in New Hampshire.
Having forfeited his Senate seat after just one term, Rubio could now be quickly forgotten — a promising pol who couldn’t wait his turn or follow the basic rules of politics.