MIAMI (AP) – Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio dropped out of the race for president Tuesday, ending his White House bid after a humbling loss in his home state to Donald Trump.
“It is not God’s plan that I be president in 2016 or maybe ever,” the Florida senator told a crowd of supporters in Miami.
While he didn’t name Trump, Rubio warned against embracing his brand of divisive politics: “I ask the American people, do not give into the fear, do not give into the frustration,” he said.
Rubio’s decision was prompted by losses in all but three of the presidential nomination contests, but Florida’s winner-take-all primary proved the most devastating. Only six years earlier, he was a tea party favorite who crushed the GOP’s “establishment” candidate to win a seat in the U.S. Senate.
But the political tables turned on him in the 2016 presidential race, where he was lambasted as mainstream in a year when voters cried out for an outsider.
In the final week, he dedicated time and resources almost exclusively to the Sunshine State, urging voters to stop Trump from “hijacking” the Republican Party. He went so far as to tell his supporters in Ohio to vote for Buckeye State governor John Kasich since his chances were better to win there.
Despite his intense rivalry with Trump, Rubio only indirectly criticized him during much of the campaign. He pivoted to an all-out assault on the businessman’s character and ethics after a dismal Super Tuesday performance March 1, when he clinched only one of the 11 contests.
In recent weeks, the attacks deviated from policy to personal. At one point, Rubio equated Trump’s small hands with his manhood. But the strategy backfired with voters and donors and Rubio later said he regretted the attacks.
Like other Republicans, Rubio had pledged to support the eventual GOP nominee. But, in recent days, he expressed having second thoughts. He told reporters Saturday that the chaos and divisiveness at Trump’s rallies, including the one in Chicago canceled last week, had made it harder for him to view the front-runner as a viable candidate.
The 44-year-old senator had seemed destined for the national spotlight. Time magazine placed him on its cover in early 2013, dubbing him the “Republican Savior.”
In under a decade, he had gone from West Miami commissioner to state legislator to Florida House Speaker. In 2010, he challenged a sitting governor for a U.S. Senate seat and won after starting more than 50 percentage points behind in the polls, catapulted by a wave of tea party supporters.
He launched his presidential campaign at the Miami Freedom Tower, where tens of thousands of his fellow Cuban-Americans had been processed as refugees. He promised lower taxes, less regulation, tighter federal spending, modernized immigration laws, and the repeal and replacement of ObamaCare.
At the time, Rubio’s friend and one-time mentor, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, seemed his biggest hurdle to get to the Oval Office.
Enter Trump. By mid-summer, he turned the Bush-Rubio rivalry into a telenovela without the sizzle. Bush dropped out after the Feb. 20 South Carolina primary.
In the Iowa caucuses, Rubio came in a better-than-expected third place, nearly beating Trump for second. He then banked on a big showing in New Hampshire but a stunningly poor debate performance – in which he frequently repeated talking points and was called “scripted” by rival Chris Christie – led to a dismal fifth place.
“Our disappointment tonight is not on you. It’s on me,” he told supporters that night.
Rubio came in second in South Carolina and Nevada, but on March 1, Super Tuesday, he collected just one win in 11 contests.
The final blow came two weeks later, at home.