NATIONAL POLITICS

Rubio lost because of Rubio: 5 takeaways from Tuesday's primaries

Tuesday, one of the biggest days in this presidential primary season, proved a very good night for Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, a pretty good night for Republican front-runner Donald Trump and an awful night for onetime rising star Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who withdrew from the race after a dismal showing in his home state. Here are a few things that stood out:

Rubio lost because of Rubio, not because of Trump

Rubio looked like so much roadkill on the Trump convoy when he dropped out after a humiliating shellacking in Florida at the hands of Trump.

But he wasn't. If anything, Rubio benefited from Trump's rise when the GOP establishment panicked and consolidated behind him with its endorsements and money.

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Rubio's bigger problems were his own. His memorably robotic performance in a debate last month, when he repeated his lines over and over almost verbatim, revealed a candidate who was overly packaged, under-seasoned and a bit too obviously primed to seek political success, wherever it lay.

Follow the bouncing ball:

He rose as speaker of the Florida House through his ability to navigate the establishment. He won his seat in the U.S. Senate in 2010 as a tea party, anti-establishment candidate.

He slipped on the establishment mantle again when he tried to pass an immigration overhaul in Congress three years ago, then backed away when polls showed it was a loser.

In this year's presidential election, he reconnected with his establishment leanings — until he dropped out of the race Tuesday night.

Guess whom he attacked? "A political establishment that for far too long has taken the votes of conservatives for granted, and a political establishment that has grown to confuse cronyism for capitalism and big business for free enterprise."

Clinton has the night she was waiting for

Clinton, the former secretary of State and first lady, won with women, minority voters and voters who came of age before her husband's presidency, her usual coalition.

But perhaps more crucial, her message — "a progressive who can get things done" — also had a good night. Democratic voters gave Clinton an edge over Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on the question of which candidate had the most realistic policies, exit polls showed. She did best in states where that gap was larger.

Clinton has had a hard time inspiring core Democratic voters with that brand of pragmatism, which has prevented her from scoring as many breakaway victories over Sanders as she would like.

But Tuesday's results in the two biggest states, Ohio and Florida, will give Clinton the type of boost in delegates and psychology she has sought. They also happen to be a pair of crucial states for the general election. Throw in North Carolina, another swing state won by Clinton, and her electability argument gets more convincing

But tight races with Sanders in Missouri and Illinois — along with Sanders' hourlong speech Tuesday — are evidence that Clinton still has work to do, both in fighting off Sanders and in winning over skeptical Democrats.

Tuesday was hardly a firewall against Trump

The Republican establishment had been pointing to March 15 as its last chance to block Trump. It did not work out.

The anointed challenger, Rubio, was burned badly in Florida.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich won his home state, which will make it more difficult — though not impossible — for Trump to win the 1,237 delegates he needs to clinch the nomination. Still, hoping for a chaotic nominating convention is far from a dream scenario for GOP establishment figures.

Trump proved his broad appeal in Florida. He won by huge margins among voters who want to deport immigrants in the country illegally, according to exit polls. That's not surprising, given that Trump has made his hard-line immigration policy central to his campaign.

But more surprising, Trump also won narrowly among voters who want to offer legal status to those immigrants.

Kasich wins. Now what?

Kasich has been waiting for Tuesday's primary since he entered the race. He worked hard to win Ohio, his first victory of the primary season. It keeps him in the race. It wounds Trump.

But where does Kasich go from here? He came in a distant fourth in Florida, lost Illinois and didn't do much better in North Carolina. His roster of endorsers keeps growing, but many of his top supporters had their political primes two or three decades ago.

During his victory speech, Kasich said he would go next to Pennsylvania, where his campaign is fighting a legal challenge to remain on the ballot when the state votes April 26.

GOP hawks retreating

Rubio was the most aggressively hawkish Republican in the field. The top two remaining Republicans, Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, have expressed strong misgivings of engagement abroad.

Trump has accused the George W. Bush administration of lying about weapons of mass destruction to justify the war in Iraq, and he has complained that the U.S. is being taken advantage of by Japan and other allies it has pledged to protect. Cruz has talked of carpet-bombing the Islamic State militant group but has been critical of prolonged nation-building efforts.

In a dramatic switch from the usual party alignments, Clinton is arguably more aggressive on foreign policy than her top two GOP rivals. She voted for the war in Iraq (and now says she regrets it), advocated for the intervention in Libya and has called for a no-fly zone in Syria.

The rescrambling on foreign policy is one of the starkest examples of Trump's effect on the race, which has flipped many traditional divides between the two parties.

noah.bierman@latimes.com

Twitter: @noahbierman

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