Nevertheless, their skill-sets served them well in the presidential race. Rubio’s combination of shoutouts to cultural conservatives and emollience toward those who disagree helped him win votes from the religious right and upscale suburbanites. Cruz’s claims of adherence to conservative principle and stentorian style gave him strong support from “very conservative” voters.
In different ways both shined in debate, with only a few lapses. Both ran well organized campaigns, with Rubio rounding up endorsements and Cruz building the race’s most disciplined and rigorous organization.
Both also attracted attacks, and not only from Trump. Rubio was the target of attack ads from Jeb Bush’s super PAC and a debate ambush by the flailing Chris Christie. The latter allowed John Kasich to finish second in New Hampshire with only 16 percent of the vote, and to stay in the race, siphoning off upscale voters from Rubio.
Now, defeated by Trump, both of their careers seem in tatters. Rubio is leaving the Senate and Cruz has close to 99 enemies there. The lesson: ambition and talent can take a politician a long way up — and down.