This is something that happened a couple of days ago, but I didn’t want to write about it for reasons of privacy you will understand.
Once in a while — well, at least this once for me — when you are traveling around the country covering presidential campaigns, you have an experience that makes the big-time grandeur of presidential politics oddly and touchingly personal.
When, relatively at the last moment, the folks at PJ Media asked me to continue on from Iowa to New Hampshire, having been in the Granite State for previous primaries, I knew Manchester would be the center of the action. I want online and, not surprisingly, the entire city was booked. Looking for someplace relatively close, I stumbled on a Holiday Inn Express in a place called Merrimack, not far from Manchester and known for its outlet mall. The hotel had a 4.7 rating on Trip Advisor, so I quickly reserved a room.
The day I arrived, I sensed something was up when I bumped into Senator Tim Scott in the elevator. I knew he was backing Marco Rubio. Was Marco actually staying in this hotel? I knew the Florida senator slightly. We had been introduced in the Senate last summer and I had interviewed him for PJ Media at Joni Ernst’s Roast & Ride in Iowa some months ago. I also sent him and Senator Cruz a series of foreign policy questions for PJM that they both answered.
I was further partial to Rubio, as some readers have noted, because I admired those foreign policy views and thought he was well positioned to beat Hillary, Bernie or whomever (Jerry Brown?) the Democrats would put up. I wasn’t as disturbed as some by his role in the amnesty question, though I don’t think those who enter the country illegally should ever be allowed to vote.
Sure enough, I saw Rubio’s campaign bus parked behind some snowy trees at the back of the hotel parking lot, but didn’t think that much of it as I went about my business, checking out the candidates at their campaign stops and then joining the media mash-up at the debate.
There, of course, I watched Chris Christie butcher a befuddled Rubio with his accusations of scripted answers that have been repeated, we could say ad nauseum, in the media. In an instant, I realized that Marco’s momentum from his surprise finish in Iowa, that many were saying would propel him to being the competitor to Trump, had been derailed by the New Jersey governor.
To be honest, I was depressed by it, but still went the next day to Rubio’s Super Bowl party, which was very well attended. (They had to change to a larger venue.) Marco gave an upbeat speech — maybe he wasn’t so wounded — and told the crowd to enjoy themselves, he wasn’t staying to watch the game.
I didn’t either. I not a fan of those teams, so I decamped to a journalist’s bar for some food and a beer. Then, bored and tired, I decided to go back to the hotel.
When I walked in, there was Marco, sitting in hotel’s living room lobby (it was one of those small hotels where everything happens in one room, including breakfast), watching the half-time show with his young boys. They were all by themselves, except for a couple of men across the room, watching another TV. Rubio had obviously left the party to watch the game with his kids.
He saw me and smiled. Sheepishly — I didn’t want him to think I was stalking him — I asked him if I could sit down to watch. He nodded and said it was a good halftime show. I barely noticed Beyonce dancing around, because I was fascinated by the way Rubio was interacting with his boys. He was clearly a terrific father. We chatted for a while and then, after the halftime show was over, he left with his kids, possibly to put them to bed.
Being the crass writer that I am, I immediately thought to write about the experience — the candidate with his children in the eye of the storm — but thought better about outing their location in the midst of a campaign, with all the crazies out there, even in the snow.
And then, the next day, I ran into Marco once more, this time in his workout clothes, accompanied by his oldest son. He had obviously used the hotel’s gym, which was pretty perfunctory. (I had walked out, lazy, after a few minutes.) We rode up the elevator and chatted again. I got the impression — no matter what you think of his views — Marco Rubio is a helluva nice guy.
So I was rooting for him at his party at Manchester’s Radisson Hotel on election night. But as the returns came in, and I saw him in fifth place, I left. I had watched his joyous speech in Des Moines, but I didn’t have the heart for this one. But I did catch it later on television. And when I saw the man take the blame for his defeat and promise to do better in future debates, I thought — there’s a mensch.
And when I saw Chris Christie had failed to make the cut for the debate in South Carolina and was returning to New Jersey to “reassess,” I smiled. Karma’s a bitch, as they say.
Oh… and when I got back to the hotel, the bus was gone.