Rubio’s concession speech was both the most interesting that he’s given in months and a reminder of why people thought he could win. For the most part, Rubio looked the part he always wanted to play: the 21st-century answer to Ronald Reagan’s Happy Warrior. Normally, when Rubio tried that role on, it looked like he was wearing his dad’s suit, his boyish, sing-song-y voice failing to match Reagan’s paternalism.
But while Rubio had a few hiccups tonight—Marcobot appeared at a few inopportune times—his speech tonight hit all of the notes his campaign had tried to hit, and almost turned them into a song. He badmouthed the establishment, despite being totally in synch with them, policy-wise; he spoke movingly about his humble beginnings and his relationship with God and Providence; and he subtly made the case against Donald Trump. I say subtly only because Rubio did not name Trump, but his shadow was all over this speech: “After tonight it is clear that while we are on the right side, this year we will not be on the winning side,” Rubio said. And while he acknowledged the anger that is driving the Republican electorate, he artfully argued against division, and made a plea for a Republican Party that represented all Americans, not just angry white ones.
If half of this speech was about Trump, the other half was about 2020. This speech was a reminder that Rubio will only be 48 years old in 2020. GOP voters may not have wanted him this year, but tonight Rubio told them that he’d be ready when they come running.