The last Republican debate of the year is finally over. While this was a high-stakes night for all of the candidates, several had more to lose than others. Marco Rubio in particular had a lot on the line. Despite the fact that many establishment Republicans support him, he’s continuously struggled to gain traction in the polls, while his chief ideological competitor, Ted Cruz, has surged. Tonight was the Florida senator’s last chance before the holidays to make an impact, and Rubio’s closing statement showed that he was well aware of this.
When Jeb Bush's campaign collapsed earlier in the campaign — a development that Rubio himself was largely responsible for — some powerful and well-connected Republicans who had previously supported Bush cashed their chips and bet on Team Rubio instead. The thinking was that, with Bush on the way out, Rubio was the candidate most well-positioned to straddle the very delicate line between the grassroots base of the GOP and members of the official party apparatus. He's very conservative, but unlike, say Ted Cruz or Donald Trump, he isn't an acerbic bomb-thrower who goes out of his way to antagonize others.
But Rubio hasn't yet lived up to these hopes. Trump's lead in the polls has proved to be nothing less than bulletproof, and over the last few weeks, Cruz, not Rubio, has seen the biggest bump. Tonight was Rubio's chance to reverse that trend and get a much-needed boost for his campaign. He ended the debate not by focusing on any one issue, but by giving a thorough, broad-based pitch for his candidacy. Here’s what he said:
As we near the end of this year, we enter one of the most important elections in a generation. For what’s at stake in this election is not simply what party is going to be in charge, but our very identity as a people and as a nation. For over 200 years, this has been a special country, a unique place where anyone from anywhere can achieve anything.
But now, millions of Americans feel like they’re being left behind — insecure in their future and unsafe in the face of terrorism. This election is about electing a president that will restore our economic vibrancy so that the american dream can expand to reach more people, and change more lives than ever before, and rebuild our military and our intelligence programs, so that we can remain the strongest nation on earth.
Tonight I ask you for your vote. If you do this, we will rebuild this country, and together we will usher in a new american century — the greatest era in the history of this great land.