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  1. Opinion

Ruth: The demise of the Rubio campaign

Published Mar. 11, 2016

It is probably not a good sign when a political candidate needs to schedule his election night "victory" rally at a hospice care facility. And that brings us quickly to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Hello, I Must Be Going.

Tuesday's Florida Republican presidential primary likely will mark the end of a political career of a young man in a hurry to go nowhere. Rubio gave up a U.S. Senate seat for this? To lose to a narcissistic kumquat?

Is there anything sadder than watching a candidate desperately trying to spin a distant finish to the political equivalent of a three-card monte hustler by claiming all is not lost since he captured that pivotal 20-year-old to 20½-year-old demographic?

As we inch closer to Tuesday, here's what we've learned.

We've learned that not all nasty, backstabbing, relentless negative advertising campaigns are equal.

For example, Donald Trump's television onslaught against Rubio as a sleazy "corrupt" politician who abused his Republican Party credit cards, played footsie with lobbyists and showed up less often for work in the Senate than The Big Lebowski's The Dude resonated with voters for the simple reason that it was all true.

While Rubio pitched himself as the heir to Ronald Reagan's legacy, the public saw him as the Sammy Glick of the stump.

On the other hand, those commercials portraying the grand and glorious Wizard of Guffaws as a shameless con man who fleeced hapless marks through Trump University were also true. And yet the damning advertisements appear to have had little negative impact on the Trump whirlwind. Why is that?

It is entirely possible people watched the sob stories of the pathetic, gullible victims of a giant Koi fish and thought to themselves: "Good grief, anyone clueless enough to fork over $35,000 to an unaccredited Trump University pretty much deserves whatever happens to them."

The Trump University as a school for scoundrels commercials attempt to portray the candidate as a dreadful, horrible, greedy thug. And there is the problem. We already knew that! Trump as a duplicitous oaf isn't a negative for the candidate. It is the entire raison d'être for his campaign.

Really now, how many candidates seeking to become the leader of the free world would turn their primary election night victory speech into a déclassé yard sale to peddle hooch, steaks and other assorted Trumpian balderdash?

(An idle question for a lifelong teetotaler: Why would anyone want to buy this guy's hooch? What does Trump know about vodka, or wine?)

The last rites for the Rubio candidacy are being prepared. There's been no shortage of finger-pointing and chin-rubbing over what went so terribly wrong.

It's pretty simple, really. You can have all the best advisers and all the money in the world and none of it is worth a bucket of warm spit if you still have a lousy candidate.

A few days ago, the New York Times recounted a story from Rubio's legislative days familiar to Florida political junkies — his failure as Florida House speaker in 2007 to rewrite the state's tax code.

And the long and short of the complex tale of tax language was this: When the going gets tough, Rubio can't close the deal. The same pattern held true in Washington, when Florida's Blue Boy senator folded and ran away when his own immigration bill attracted opposition. It was just too darn hard.

So after one term in the Senate with less to show for his time than guarding Lenin's tomb, Rubio decided he was ready for the big boy job of the presidency. He couldn't close the deal and, no, channeling a 10-year-old making Captain Underpants jokes doesn't quite count as a Reaganesque moment of visionary leadership.

In an odd way, Rubio's impending loss to Trump this week is another indictment of Florida's insane legislative term limits law. Consider that Rubio became speaker of the Florida House at 34 and served in that role from 2006 until 2008, when he was forced to leave office. Without term limits, Rubio never would have risen to speaker so soon, remaining in the Florida Legislature to actually learn the job instead of chasing the next one.

Ironically, after Tuesday Rubio will have plenty of time on his hands.