Rubio's bid never recovered from 'small hands' jibe
Published 17/03/2016 | 02:30
Marco Rubio started the race for his party's nomination young. Too young, if you ask Jeb Bush, his political big brother, or if you listen to Donald Trump, as many did. He dubbed him "Little Marco", and it stuck.
On Tuesday night, Rubio suffered the first loss of his storied career and it was a devastating one. Trump whooped him by almost 20 points in his home state.
He was soundly rejected by the people who used to love him the most. It would be easy to blame Trump, and in his concession speech Rubio did some of that by deploring a political climate in which "people literally hate each other". But, in truth, he was felled by a general disgust with politicians. Rubio won his Senate seat in 2010 as a Tea Party darling. By 2016, to the angry base, he had become a Washington elite.
But Rubio himself is partly to blame. He'd had some second-place finishes and had a chance of becoming the establishment candidate after Bush dropped out. But Trump started in on him early, branding him with belittling nicknames and taunts about how much he sweated under pressure.
After weeks of battering, Rubio went on his own rampage and finally got the coverage that had been Trump's alone. But he came out the worse for it. The press covered his bad joke about Trump having small hands like Howard Dean's scream.
Then Rubio remembered who he was and offered a mea culpa for the taunts he levelled at Trump. My "kids were embarrassed by it. My wife didn't like it," he told Fox News. "That's not who I am and that's not what I want to be. Honestly, I want to be a good example. I want my kids to be proud of me."
But he never recovered. It's hard to remember how bright a light Rubio was in his party, the politician Bill Clinton tried to defeat in his race for the Senate fearing he would present the biggest challenge to his wife.
Rubio might have had a comeback had he been able to win Florida. His fate was sealed when Ted Cruz, who had no chance of winning, decided to spoil it for Rubio by competing there. It hurt Cruz in his bid to stop Trump, but it hurt Rubio more.