Nocatee, in St. Johns County, is the #3 Best Selling Planned Community in the U.S. The community has all the amenities, from fitness and RV trails to zip lines.
Just a few miles from Jacksonville, it’s where many families with money move to raise their kids. It’s a great place to grow up.
The moms and dads commute to the city up north, reserving their property taxes for a different county; the kids get to grow up in a planned community that avoids failures to plan on the governmental level that created the inexorable exodus from Jacksonville to Nocatee and places in St. Johns and other nearby counties like this.
The community has yet to grow into its infrastructure. The Nocatee Parkway: six lanes, no congestion. Even the Publix parking lot was half full at PM rush.
People with money, college degrees, and families: this is Marco Rubio’s base, conservatives of circumstance, more J. Crew than Russell Kirk. And so it was that a Tuesday evening rally at Nocatee was logical with a capital L.
The crowd – hundreds of them – by and large clean, with fresh haircuts, with all their teeth, with the bright smiles of the possibility of the American Dream. No need to “make America great again.” For these folks, it already was great. How could it be otherwise?
The synthesized beats and emotive vocals of pop-dance hits of recent vintage (this generation’s version of the Miami Freestyle that was the soundtrack to Rubio’s youth) played as hundreds upon hundreds stood in a field, the cool March breeze blowing across the Publix shopping center parking lot across the street.
Kids capered, adolescents had beaming permanent smiles, and there was no tension in the crowd. It was easy, very easy, to see why the grievance politics of Trump doesn’t play here. And why Rubio’s does.
Rubio opened with positive messaging, getting applause with “our rights come from the creator; our rights come from God.”
Then, a “crossroads,” after “eight years of Barack Obama, and two decades of failure in Washington,” which would seem to encompass the Bush/Cheney era.
The crowd didn’t pop for that. Rubio then went into the David Vs. Goliath story of his slaying of Charlie Crist.
“I chose to run against those odds, and Florida believed in me,” Rubio said, getting scattered applause.
From there, recounting his Senate achievements got a modest response. The best applause: for “sanctions against Hezbollah” and for standing up to the “Obama agenda.”
Then: “only a President can set the agenda… to craft a new course for America’s future.”
“We are going to return to the principles that made America’s greatness possible,” Rubio said.
As well, “the balance of the court and the Constitution are at stake,” Rubio said, espousing originalism over “what these liberal judges are doing now.”
The “for the first time in eight years” line resonated through his remarks, as in Jacksonville Saturday, before he extolled having “fixed problems” in the State Legislature, saying that solutions are best reached “at the state level, not the federal level.”
“After I take the Oath of office, I will go to the oval Office, and repeal every single one of Obama’s Unconstitutional Executive Orders.”
Free enterprise? “It works… you can lift everybody up, and not tear everybody down.”
Socialism? “It doesn’t work.”
And for this crowd, who believes – who must believe – in strict capitalism, the dichotomy works.
The “Commander in Chief is weak” line popped up, again, as does the Trump “believes the Nuclear Triad is a rock band.”
It got strong response; comfort food, as much as the familiar songs before the event.
Rubio reprised his warnings about “gutting our military” in the face of encroaching ISIS and “radical Islamic jihad,” and brought back his “pilots are younger than the planes” line.
It all worked: got appropriate levels of applause, at appropriate times, building up to a “Reagan style rebuilding of the US military,” which got a short Mar-co, Mar-co chant.
The hard line national security riffs continued, including reminders that Trump “wouldn’t take sides… between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” and that President Obama pays the ayatollah of Iran more respect than Netanyahu.
It all worked. The pathos lines, in this speech: a reminder of the problems with the VA, including his brother Mario’s issues getting dental treatment, and “calls to the VA’s suicide hotline going to voicemail.”
“No one has been fired,” Rubio said. “This is an outrage.”
Rubio, as in Jacksonville, “took a moment to thank our police officers and our firefighters for all they do for us,” before pivoting into a defense of “traditional values” and “strong families,” both of which abounded in this crowd.
Marco Rubio may never be the President of the United States. But to see him in this setting, a world away from lead poisoning in Flint, or even the casual horrors of Eureka Gardens in Jacksonville, or even the traffic jams of Julington Creek, yesteryear’s suburban idyll in these parts, it is clear who his base is.
Whether this is where the country is in 2016, or will ever be again, is much more opaque. The appeals that Trump makes are light years away from this world, in which Rubio seems inevitable.
These people are all really nice. But in 2016 in the GOP electorate, they are far from critical mass.
The irony: Marco Rubio, the youngest person in the race, has a message that would have played better in 1988 or 2000 than in 2016. The pre-rally music may be new and on top of the charts. But the message is not.”
“We must stop and remind ourselves what conservatism truly is… Ronald Reagan defined it for a full generation.”
Ronald Reagan has been gone a long time now.
“We have never been an angry people. We have always been an optimistic people…. But we must return to these principles of conservatism, and apply them to our times,” Rubio said.
Familiar stories followed about his family rising up from immigration to the American dream. Stories about family sacrifice. Stories about personal sacrifice.
“That is the American Dream… separates us from every country in the world… we can save it now, or explain to our children why we lost it.”
The crowd listened stoic, until the “when I am President, this generation will do its part” line got applause.
“I know that times are tough, but I want you to believe as Reagan did… that we can do anything,” Rubio said.
There is an “audacity of hope” aspect to Rubio’s most aspirational rhetoric. But it’s undercut: by the pleading for a vote. By the realization that, without some sea change, this moment and this movement are done.