OPED: Get ready to say goodbye to Rubio, terrible candidate

Tribune News Service
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. pauses while addressing the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md., Saturday, March 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

We can now project another loser in the 2016 presidential race. We're not talking loser as in Jeb Bush, Rick Perry, Martin O'Malley and the others we've lost along the campaign trail.

We're talking loser as in full-frontal embarrassment to himself and his family and disappointment to his nation. My fellow Americans, let's get ready to bid farewell to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who despite his improved behavior and impressive performance in the Thursday GOP debate in Miami, could go down as the most annoying candidate of the year.

And that's in a year when a peculiar fellow named Donald Trump also is running.

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I was favorably impressed by Rubio when I saw him at a Dallas campaign event in January. Despite the opportunity to jab U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rubio stayed positive and offered an optimistic, upbeat presence.

The tone changed noticeably the next time I saw Rubio in Texas, which was at the Feb. 25 debate in Houston when he aggressively attacked Trump. And the tone bottomed out the next day in Dallas when Rubio, speaking to supporters, went full Don Rickles, taunting Trump for misspelled tweets and suggesting Trump had wet his pants at the debate. Over the next few days, Rubio mocked Trump's "horrible spray tan" and small hands.

Don't get me wrong. I love Rickles. It's just that I don't think insult comedy is necessarily the best shtick for a presidential candidate.

And now neither does Rubio, who a day prior to Thursday's debate told MSNBC he regrets that phase of his campaign.

"In terms of things that have to do with the personal stuff, yeah, at the end of the day it's not something I'm entirely proud of. My kids were embarrassed by it, and if I had to do it again I wouldn't," he said.

"I'm not telling you (Trump) didn't deserve it, but that's not who I am," Rubio said, adding, "I don't want to be that. If that's what it takes to become president of the United States, then I don't want to be president."

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So what are we to think of a senator who, for a few days, thought that's what it takes to become president? It's sad because Rubio was strong on a variety of policy issues at Thursday's debate. He limited his non-policy-related attacks on Trump to this tightly stated bit of reality about the loose-lipped frontrunner: "I know that a lot of people find appeal in the things Donald says 'cause he says what people wish they could say. The problem is, presidents can't just say anything they want. It has consequences, here and around the world."

Ditto for presidential candidates, such as Rubio's previous callow, shallow and cynical plunge into consultant-driven misbehavior.

Trump (As Seen On TV!) is Trump. And Cruz is Cruz. Both have been fairly consistent in their campaign personas, though periodically and appropriately changing their focus when conditions demanded. But in his desperate attempts at survival, Rubio showed himself willing to be whatever he thought would work at the moment (and then regretted it when it didn't work). It wasn't Trump who made Rubio "Little Marco." By his embarrassing behavior and middle-school jabs, Rubio made himself small, too small for the big shoes needed in the White House.

And, compared to what we saw from Rubio in Miami on Thursday, that is disappointing.

Let's end with something borrowed, something making the rounds. I just want to make sure you hear it.

Hillary Clinton would be our first female president. Bernie Sanders would be our first Jewish president. Rubio or Cruz would be our first Hispanic president.

Trump would be our last president.