Rubio exit gives Cruz shot to topple Trump

Jeremy Lott

Sen. Marco Rubio lost his home state of Florida to Donald Trump on Super Duper Tuesday and he lost it badly, 27 percent to Trump’s roughly 46 percent. It could have gone much worse for him. Some polls in the week leading up to the contest had Rubio coming in third. Millions of dollars in ads, and perhaps some sense of mercy from Sunshine State voters, pulled him into second.

All of the remaining candidates had words of consolation for Rubio. But Trump’s words were the most perfunctory and his Twitter account soon rubbed salt into that raw wound. It ran video of Rubio saying, “I believe with all of my heart that the winner of the Florida primary next Tuesday will be the nominee of the Republican Party.” White-on-black script answered, “Thanks Marco We Agree!”

Rubio made the best of it. “The fact that I’ve come this far,” he said, “is evidence of how special America truly is, and all the reason more why we must do all we can to ensure that this nation remains a special place” in a concession speech that was disrupted by a rowdy, heckling Trump supporter. Rubio admitted that it was “not God’s plan that I be president in 2016, or maybe ever.” His supporters said that his campaign was about an optimistic, youthful, tolerant, proudly patriotic version of the GOP and lamented in his downfall that the dark forces of Trumpism were winning.

But the Rubio campaign wasn’t about optimism so much as it was about American primacy. That’s a foreign policy framework which “holds that only a preponderance of U.S. power ensures peace,” according to an influential article in “International Security.” Rubio frequently spoke of “American exceptionalism” and promised a “new American century.” America should be in charge and under a president Rubio, and by God it would stay in charge, he promised.

To that end, he supported a hyperactive version of American involvement in Iraq, Libya and Syria. He pushed harder than any other candidate the notion that our military is “hollowed out” and needs to be restored to its former, Cold War-era glory.

Trump mocked him mercilessly during the campaign — over missed votes, “amnesty,” his stature, and his fondness for using American power — and stole Rubio’s issues when he thought they were winning ones. “We’re going to make our military bigger and stronger than ever before and nobody, nobody, nobody is going to mess with us, folks! Nobody!” Trump declared a few weeks back.

Rubio got a bit of his own back, return-mocking Trump on the stump and to his face in one debate. Rubio asked his own supporters in Ohio to vote for Gov. John Kasich instead, which helped keep the state’s 66 delegates out of Trump’s hands.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has said that if he gets to take on Trump head-on, he will prevail. With Rubio out of the race and Kasich a first place finisher in his own backyard only, he’ll be getting his wish. Now, on the economy, on immigration, on the Constitution, on vital issues of war and peace, Cruz has one last chance to make his case.

Jeremy Lott is a senior fellow at the American Security Initiative Foundation.