Another Republican foot soldier in the anti-Trump battle bites the dust. On Wednesday, Marco Rubio said he'll back Donald Trump on NBC's Today, albeit with a less-than-subtle note of unease. Despite his (attempted) smiles, Rubio made it clear during the interview that he was not excited to be supporting Trump. It was a lesser-of-two-evils scenario — or as Rubio described it, a "quandary" (a used that word more than once during the interview) that not just he "but millions of Republicans across the country" are trying to grapple with.
It was glaring how utterly unhappy Rubio was to tell Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie of how Trump was, essentially, a last resort for him. At times, it looked like someone had just told him the family golden retriever had been poisoned, or he had swallowed something rancid by mistake and couldn't spit it out. "I think it's pretty clear that this is the position, obviously, I didn't want us to be in. Donald Trump obviously wasn't my first choice." Obviously. In addition to all the critiques Rubio made against Trump during his own presidential run, he adamantly shot down any rumors that he'd even consider being Trump's VP choice if asked.
Even during Wednesday's interview, Rubio made is crystal clear that he still thought Trump was a horrible option and he couldn't stomach actually campaigning for the man. He conveyed this message in somewhat more politically correct lingo when asked if he would hit the trail for the presumptive Republican nominee:
I would just say that I think Donald Trump would be best served by having people out there on his behalf who agree with him on these policies and are enthusiastic about his campaign and enthusiastically support the things he has stood for. My reservations about him have been clearly stated and they remain unchanged.
Watching Rubio bite his lip and pledge to support Trump was nothing short of disheartening. Seeing the Florida senator — who was a strong, forceful critic of Trump, and who provided a (relatively) hopeful contrast for what the GOP could be — so resigned to the belief that a Trump presidency was the best option was depressing. Is this how bleak the future is for Republicans, that their hopes hang on a reality TV business mogul? Well, at the moment, yes.
What struck me more, though, was that if Rubio was willing to come out and pledge to vote for Trump, there's less hope than ever that Clinton will be able to court anti-Trump Republicans. "You don't have a choice here anymore between 17 people, or even five. For voters in Florida in November, the choice is going to be ... between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, or abstaining," Rubio said. "If I, as a Republican, abstain or vote for Hillary Clinton, that's support for her, and I am not going to support Hillary Clinton."
Furthermore, whatever momentum created by Paul Ryan declaring he was "just not ready" to endorse Trump, which suggested that some Republican leaders were looking to a long-term future that did not have this ludicrous, bombastic demagogue at the party's fore, has all but vanished. Ryan himself has also demurred since coming out swinging last week. The Speaker of the House said he would step down as the Republican National Convention chair if Trump asked him to do so.
But Rubio's painful admission of support for Trump made it clear to me that Republicans would rather gamble on a potential short-term win by throwing their weight behind a man who is the antithesis of their better values than think seriously about rebuilding their party and sustaining a long-term future. "I clearly did not want us to be in the position we are in today," Rubio said near the end of the interview. I am certain he is not alone in that sentiment.