In Miami, Marco Rubio Supporters Struggle with the Rise of Donald Trump

Supporters cheer during a rally for Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) at Tropical Park March 1, 2016 in Miami, Florida.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

MIAMI, FLORIDA — Sen. Rubio hadn’t taken the stage yet, but Rubio’s supporters were eager to see how their hometown candidate would perform on Super Tuesday after five days of tackling Trump that had singlehandedly taken up all the oxygen in the race.

As they waited in the arena at the Tropicana Park Equestrian Center in Miami, they spoke with Breitbart News about why they supported Rubio for president — and how they felt about Trump, who was currently the front-runner in the presidential race.

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When asked why they supported Rubio, each person cited the Florida senator’s local connections to the community and argued that he had a cross-party appeal for the general election against Hillary Clinton.

Alex Llama, a middle class conservative father who lived in the same neighborhood as Rubio, pointed out that the Florida senator shared his values and was great at explaining them.

Trump, on the other hand, was “very fond of things that we are completely against,” he said, citing the billionaire’s vocal support for many liberal policy positions in the past.

He thought it was unfair that Rubio was held in contempt by conservatives for his participation in the Gang of Eight effort to pass immigration reform, while Trump had so many inconsistencies on conservative issues.

“I don’t think a presidency of Hillary or Trump is any different as far as what their agenda will be,” he said, citing the controversial billionaire’s history of supporting liberal political positions.

Llama’s wife Jackie was skeptical that someone as divisive as Trump would be able to beat Hillary Clinton. She praised Rubio for his rhetorical skills that articulated a more inclusive campaign for all Americans.

“Rubio will use his skills to better our country instead of using it to divide us all,” he said.

When asked if she knew any Trump supporters, she cited one friend with whom it was difficult to discuss the issues.

“She’s not listening to any of the issues, she’s blinded by him, she has tunnel vision,” she said. “She doesn’t want to see anything. I show her the facts, and she doesn’t realize that Donald Trump is the opposite of her core values.”

The couple attended the rally with their friend Joey Sankows, who wore his NRA shirt and a Gadsden Flag Tea Party hat to the rally and described himself as a fan of Breitbart News.

When asked why he supported Rubio, Sankos cited the Florida Senator as a candidate who shared his conservative principles.

He admitted that he wasn’t a fan of Rubio’s participation in the Senate Gang of Eight bill, but cited it as a strategic move to block Democrats from using the issue as a political weapon.

“I think he’s more of a realist guy,” he said. “He had to do something. Instead of Democrats setting the narrative, he knew he had to get his foot in the door so he at least he could show that not only Democrats cared about immigrants.”

Sankos said he had followed Rubio’s career for a while, especially since he made a dynamic speech at CPAC in 2010 when he was running for Senate. He wasn’t a Trump supporter, but was sympathetic to those who were frustrated.

“People are pissed,” he admitted. “I think a lot of people are just sticking it to the establishment. I can see the appeal.”

He cited the enormous omnibus bill that passed the house last year as one reason why conservatives were upset with establishment Republicans.

“Paul Ryan, who is supposed to be a Tea Party favorite, helped it go right through and basically greased the wheels for it,” he said. “And it’s like more and more we keep giving them power and they don’t do anything with it.”

Sankos believed that Trump reflected that feeling, but wasn’t sure whether it was what the country needed.

“Trump is a wrecking ball, that’s all he is,” he said.

Another man, Rene, also signaled disappointment with Rubio’s attempt to work with Democrats on the Gang of Eight bill.

“He didn’t understand the consequences of something like that,” he said, shaking his head. “And I think he should have, but we all makes mistakes.”

He noted with approval that Rubio appeared to change his position on immigration and also praised the Florida Senator’s earnest love of America as the son of an immigrant from Cuba.

When asked what he thought about Rubio’s personal attacks against Trump, he suggested that the Senator’s decision was obviously a strategic one.

“I don’t like the insults, I don’t think it gets anybody anywhere,” he said. “But you can’t just sit there and take it, or people think you’re a wimp.”

The idea of Trump as president, he admitted, scared him.

“I’m a little afraid of a guy like Trump, he’s got a big ego, he doesn’t take well to criticism,” he said.

Rene admitted that he would likely vote for Trump should he win the nomination, citing the importance of beating Hillary. He also signaled some hope that Trump could rise to the occasion.

“There are a lot of presidents that people thought were going to be a certain way and they turned out to be really great presidents,” he said. “And there are others like Jimmy Carter — people thought he was going to be something else — and he turned into an absolute disaster.”

One couple, John and Sandy from Miami, were less optimistic as they hoisted a Dump Trump sign featuring a brightly orange colored image of the Republican frontrunner.

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They pointed out that Trump was a “nasty person” who was destroying everybody in his path.

“I don’t believe he’s honest, and we don’t really know what he stands for,” Sandy explained. “There’s no depth.”

She was a longtime fan of Rubio and even volunteered for his Senate campaign because he was a “family man and a Christian.”

John was frustrated that too many conservative talk shows ripped Rubio apart for just one mistake on the Gang of Eight immigration bill, while Trump skated by untouched.

“They made too big a deal about that, I think they made a major mistake by bashing him so much. I think they messed up. Now we got Trump,” he said.

They both said they weren’t sure whether they could ever vote for Trump in a general election against Hillary.

“It might be the first election of my lifetime that I stay home,” she said.

A young man, Juan Zapata from Miami, who came to the rally with a couple of friends, admitted that he wasn’t obsessed with politics but was interested in what Rubio had to say, as he still hadn’t made up his mind of who to vote for.

When asked about what he thought about Rubio’s recent attacks on Trump, he said it was one more example of what the media and the candidates had done to the electoral process.

“I think overall it’s just really crazy how they tuned the election into a reality show,” referring to dramatic CNN commercials for the upcoming debates. “It favors the person who is the loudest. We’ve turned politics into a show. It’s just sad.”

That atmosphere, Zapata explained, favored Trump, which was why Rubio had to pick up the pace.

“He has to do it to get attention,” he said.

Angela Schmidt said that she watches Fox News to follow the presidential race but was disappointed that every time she turned on her TV, they were talking about Donald Trump.

“I think Fox is in the tank for Trump, big time,” she said.

She was pleased that Rubio decided to hit back against Trump after months of watching him manipulate the media for more coverage.

“I thought he had no other choice, that’s the only way he has to get more media since then,” she said. “I don’t believe that’s the person he is, but if you play with the bully you gotta deal with the bully,

She said that Trump was “down in the gutter from the beginning,” describing him as “mean” and “arrogant” and a “bully.”

“There are so many negative adjectives I could describe him with,” she said, adding that Rubio was “saying what I wanted to say to the guy” in recent days.

She said she had a few friends who were Trump supporters, as was her brother-in-law in Illinois.

“We have had words,” she said, describing her relative as “just like Trump.”

“During Christmas time we were there and we kind of got into that,” she said. “My husband kind of told me, ‘You better stop.’”

“I haven’t talked to him since Christmas about it because I want to keep my family together,” she laughed. “And I have a sharp tongue so we could be in trouble.”

Maria Coronado from Miami disagreed with Rubio for tearing into Trump personally.

“I wish it had never gotten to that level because I think we need to understand that the world is watching us,” she said. She supported Rubio but was saddened to see him get in the mud with Trump.

“You never want to see your guy punch down,” she said.

Judy from Miami said she was a Rubio fan ever since he challenged Charlie Crist. “I was very glad he won that race,” she said.

She said she had “mixed emotions” after Rubio decided to mock Trump.

“I think a lot of it is very funny, and I think Trump deserves every bit of it,” she said. But she acknowledged that Rubio had a serious side which was likely recognized by voters.

“Trump had it coming,” she said. “He’s just a big bully and unfortunately people are falling for it.” Some of her friends supported Trump she admitted, even her brother-in-law, whom she called a “bright guy.”

“We totally disagree,” she said.

Trump’s appeal, she theorized, was due to him making a lot of promises to voters, but she was skeptical that he could deliver.

Could she ever vote for Trump? She smiled sadly.

“I was talking to a couple of friends about that today,” she said. “It’s going to be hard for me … but I can’t just let Hillary take it away. I really don’t care for him, I wish I didn’t have to vote for him.”