It's weird enough that two major candidates for the GOP presidential nomination hail from Miami, but the slugfest between Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush is even more localized. In fact, the birthplace of their epic struggle for Republican party dominance can actually be traced to a single luxury hotel in Coral Gables.
A new book on the wild 2016 GOP primary paints a fascinating portrait of how Marco and Jeb's first fight for the Republican party's elite hearts and minds took place inside the faux-Mediterranean halls of the Biltmore. And as Jeb's campaign wobbles toward a catastrophic primary finish, the book — The Wilderness by Buzzfeed reporter McKay Coppins — illuminates how that Biltmore crowd helped push Jeb toward running in the first place while dismissing Marquito as too young and inexperienced.
Coppins traces the Jeb-Marco collision back to 2012, when Mitt Romney bombed on the national stage and Republicans immediately began jockeying for the next presidential cycle.
The Biltmore has been a national political hub since the '90s, Coppins notes, when Democratic fundraiser Gene Prescott bought the 1920s gem and poured millions into a revamp. And as both Jeb and Marco started planting feelers, they did so at the Biltmore (where Rubio, incidentally, had his national coming-out party in front of 300 reporters from around the world after winning his Senate seat.)
The hotel became a place where Miami-Dade's important people went to exercise and amplify their importance; to revel in their status; to bask in the belief that their idle, cocktail-buzzed gossip had the power to shape laws, move markets, start wars — and pick the next president of the United States. And in the wake of the 2012 elections, no one was more eager for their approval than Florida's freshman senator.
But getting that approval was no easy feat with Jeb lurking around the same hotel. Bush, in fact, had kept his personal offices inside the tony establishment for years — a handy location for power lunches and quick rounds of golf. And to the GOP power-brokers who haunted the same hallways, Jeb was still the hallowed ex-governor with the winning last name. Marco was just a fresh face — promising, but unproven, even as his star was rising in D.C. As Coppins reports:
(In D.C.) he was a superstar, a media sensation, a standard-bearer for a new generation of Republicans. But here at the Biltmore, he was the kid who used to sneak onto the golf course late at night with his buddies to get drunk on beer; the young lawyer who received a free upgrade on his wedding night so that he and his bride, Jeanette, could stay in a suite; the baby-faced freshman senator who had lots of potential, but so far seemed unwilling to live up to it. Here, he was just Marquito.
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While that episode dates to 2012, the Biltmore crowd's attitude carried all the way to into the race today — Jeb still dominates Rubio in fundraising and endorsements from Florida GOP figures. But in the primary polls, of course, Jeb is tanking horribly to little Marquito.
Coppins' book made headlines last week for other Jeb-Marco news — namely, that members of Jeb's team tried to smear Rubio with rumors that he'd cheated on his wife.
But Miami readers will love the ground-level portrait of how two guys who live a few miles apart in Dade County are fighting in a Coral Gables hotel over who gets to lead the free world.