With the departure of Jeb Bush from the presidential campaign, Republican voters will have to take a leap of faith in choosing a candidate in the Florida presidential primary.
(Early voting runs from Monday to March 13. Election Day is March 15.)
The former two-term Florida governor, in our view, was the most qualified candidate in the field, a gutsy leader who had proved he could overhaul government and handle crises.
Of the candidates remaining, only Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a former congressman, can offer such a reassuring record. But we don’t see him generating a firestorm of enthusiasm among GOP voters eager for a clean sweep in Washington.
Inflammatory Ted Cruz has scant executive experience and, despite constantly emphasizing his faith, seems to play fast and loose with the truth. We also remember how he was willing to shut down the government, jeopardizing the economy, for his political self-aggrandizement.
Congenial Ben Carson may be a brilliant surgeon and have a impressive life story, but he has absolutely no experience that suggests he could lead the most powerful nation in the world.
That leaves the two candidates with the best chances of winning the White House in November: New York businessman-entertainer Donald Trump and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Trump is fearless in challenging political convention, and his promise to make American great again, regardless of who gets in the way, is touching a chord with the public.
His supporters don’t care that his agenda is sketchy, many of his grandiose claims unrealistic, and his crude behavior can seem like that of a unruly middle-schooler. They are, understandably, drawn to his persona as a down-to-earth guy who won’t take grief from anyone.
We can understand the appeal of Trump’s sassy exuberance but find his tendency to demonize and denigrate others deeply troubling.
Because Trump exhibits more good humor than anger, he doesn’t come across as a hater, but his campaign has consistently sought to evoke resentment toward individuals and groups. Some may find Trump’s incessant bragging and name-calling entertaining, but it’s revealing that he shows such little respect for others.
Moreover, one can never be sure about his sincerity. It sometimes seems as if the campaign is a big lark for him. Given his record — his past political positions are all over the map — it is impossible to determine what Trump truly wants, other than the spotlight.
That leaves Rubio, an articulate and charismatic politician who offers a consistent record of supporting conservative policies.
He promises to repeal burdensome regulations, get rid of Obamacare, cut taxes and simplify the tax code. He wants to help working-class families with tax credits. He has demonstrated an ability to recover from mistakes and remain focused on his priorities during the campaign.
We have some reservations. As former speaker of the Florida House, he has some leadership experience but none on the executive level. He’s shown no great interest in Hillsborough County and even attempted to stop flights from Tampa to Cuba, though such flights were already allowed in Miami.
We were disappointed that Rubio turned his attention away from his Senate post to his political ambitions soon after he was elected. His accomplishments are modest, particularly compared to Bush’s.
But a number of presidents, including Truman and Kennedy, had largely unremarkable records before assuming office. Rubio is smart, determined and a gifted speaker, who doesn’t try to incite people’s base instincts.
We believe he is capable of bringing a divided nation together.
Barring a stunning development, the Democrats will nominate either a socialist or a slippery politician with a history of poor judgment and deceit. It is critical the Republicans nominate someone who can appeal to a wide spectrum of Americans, not just those bubbling with the anger that Trump has so effectively tapped.
Rubio clearly is that candidate. In the Florida GOP presidential primary, The Tampa Tribune recommends Marco Rubio.