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For the characters of 30 Rock, Florida is a mélange of conservative Cubans, Jewish retirees, serial killers, secretly gay Disney princes, bus passengers who ran out of money, swamp people, and pirates. For author Tim Dorsey, it’s the state where prosthetic legs covered in Willie Nelson bumper stickers regularly wash ashore. And for Marco Rubio, it’s a last-chance opportunity to convince the American people that he is a feasible alternative to the unstoppable Trump juggernaut—and, far more consequentially, that the Republican party can still be the flagship of an increasingly and perhaps irretrievably populist, pseudo-conservative American right.
Rubio, who spent his Super Tuesday in Miami, presumably realizes the high stakes of the Florida primary. Unlike most of the previous ones, Florida’s is a winner-take-all competition with just shy of 100 delegates up for grabs. Perhaps more important than the prospect of doubling his paltry delegate count, a Rubio victory here would play into the theme of momentum that the Senator’s team has so strategically pushed to cover his meager showing in elections so far—Rubio’s electability shouldn’t be discounted because of his losses of the past, but bolstered by his potential for success in the future. The Florida primary is also critical because it answers a question that perhaps Rubio doesn’t want answered: If he cannot win in his home state, where can he?
That last question is a scary one. Trump is trouncing Rubio by a comfortable margin in the polls, beating him in all demographics except, strikingly, the college-educated. To Rubio’s credit, Florida Republicans are an eclectic bunch—unlike their Southern brethren, they are not mostly white evangelicals, who are Trump’s most consistent supporters. Rubio is specifically targeting the strong conservative Cuban population of south Florida, a community he spent his childhood with and whose favor he is desperately attempting to curry. Throughout the Florida campaign trail, Rubio has highlighted the endorsement of his campaign by three Latino Congressmen from Southern Florida as well as Florida’s Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera.
Although it’s tempting to consider that Cruz’s Hispanic heritage and Kasich’s establishment appeal could steal Florida from Rubio, the Florida senator doesn’t even beat Trump in a simulated head-to-head competition, invalidating the popular argument that the Republican field is facing a Prisoner’s Dilemma. Far from an asset as a drop-out, Kasich will be fighting a similarly pivotal winner-take-all battle in Ohio the same day Rubio does in Florida, and will likely face an easier albeit still uphill battle against Trump in his home state. A Kasich victory in Ohio would aid Rubio in slowing down the Trump machine.
What a disheartening endgame, slowing down the Trump machine is. It implies the delay of the inevitable—the slow bleeding of a dying party—which begs the question, is it finally time to pull the trigger?
This is why Florida is so important—it’s less a battle for candidates and more one for ideologies. If Trump wins, conservatism loses. If Trump loses, all that it will demonstrate is that conservative leaders can convincingly pretend that they share the principles and priorities of a now-unrecognizable base. I was never one who celebrated Pyrrhic victory, so perhaps Florida is hardly a battle at all.
Florida’s importance lies in its meaninglessness. It is a sign of a party approaching its telos, a harbinger of a radical reinterpretation of American conservatism. One state will make the trivial distinction between a man unfit to lead an irate and weary party that is Republican only by name and a man unfit to lead any party whatsoever. The day Trump gets the nomination is the day I leave the Republican Party. The day Rubio gets it is the day I sit and think long and hard about whether I belong in a party for which Florida made the difference between him and someone like Trump. Chances are, I’ll leave the Republican Party in that case too.
Shubhankar Chhokra ’18, a Crimson editorial writer, is a social studies concentrator in Eliot House. His column appears on alternate Fridays. Follow him on Twitter @shubchhokra.
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