WEST PALM BEACH — Was it a wake or a comeback? A fair amount of the major press corps — Carl Cameron, the WaPo’s Dana Milbank, all the birds that have been following the campaigns from Iowa to New Hampshire and on — turned out for Marco Rubio’s final Florida rally at Palm Beach Atlantic University. (How’s that for a place to go to school? No, the symbol isn’t a surfboard.)
The pre-appearance whispering was about internal polls. Had anybody heard one for Marco that looked good for the candidate in Florida? The RealClearPolitics average clearly didn’t.
It should come as no surprise to readers of these digital pages, whose author does not believe in the myth of impartial journalism, that I am a little wistful. At the beginning of this journey, I favored Marco. Others got down in the weeds on immigration and other subjects and rejected him, but I thought he was the young hope, a possible GOP JFK, though who knows what Kennedy would really have been like if he had to face the brutal meat grinder of a second term.
Of course, that changed. It wasn’t because of Marco, though he had his famous stumble. It was the course of events and the Trump tsunami that has, at least so far, swept aside everything in its wake.
But now, as I write this, Rubio has appeared, running up the stairs with his entourage and then disappearing into some makeshift green room to wild applause from the patiently waiting crowd.
I am immediately reminded of something I already know but frequently forget. These elections pretend to be about ideas and policies, but there are more powerful, deeper forces that move us and that we might not understand until years later, if then. Trump’s success is that he instinctively catches this. These forces can be dangerous, but they are the ones that most often effectuate serious change for good or ill.
Political campaigns, following them too, are a certain kind of high, a cocaine of sorts. And like cocaine, the highs are very high but the lows can be black indeed. Rubio seems on the cusp of the latter, but, as a man of faith, he may avoid it. I hope he does.
Now the crowd is being divided into halves, one shouting “Marco,” the other “Rubio,” followed by ritual praise for our veterans, a few words from school officials, and soon enough Marco is here speaking.
I have heard this speech before, in Iowa (twice), in New Hampshire (twice), and naturally on television, but one aspect of it still reverberates with me. Rubio says America was not founded on a political principle but a spiritual one — God gave us the rights from which we have gained this magnificent country, unique in the world.
Even with his now hoarse voice he makes me believe it.
He is also the last (well, maybe not the last, but the most persuasive) advocate for neoconservativism. Unlike many these days, Rubio sees a moral imperative in what the United States does in the world for the good of all humanity.
People like to point to Cruz’s spiritual/religious background, but to me Marco’s is far more authentic. Cruz sometimes makes me cringe with his religiosity. Marco never does. His beliefs, including his constitutionality, seem to come more directly from his heart. At least to me.
Of course, it’s likely that neither man will be president. Not now anyway. So we will not know anytime soon.
Still, when I hear Rubio repeat his support for Israel and his pledge to cancel the Iran deal, and express his respect for our first responders, as he is doing this moment, it continues to move me. I know he’s telling what is really his truth. He remains the best political communicator we have seen since Reagan.
So in closing, I would to make clear what I think has been the most unfair accusation thus far of the 2016 presidential campaign. Marco Rubio is not “little.” How do I know? He’s two inches taller than I am. (You got a problem with that?)
As his speech ends, I still have no news of those optimistic internals. But I will be rooting for Marco tomorrow, sentimentally.