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Rubio backs Romney with tepid praise

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Given Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) role in his party -- Republican officials see him as a likely VP and rising star -- it was certainly notable that he endorsed Mitt Romney last night on Fox News. But it was the way in which the far-right Floridian expressed his support that struck me as interesting.

Rubio appeared on Sean Hannity's show and spoke at length about Republicans choosing a nominee before the start of the party's convention in Tampa. The senator called a floor fight "a recipe for disaster," adding that it's "evidently and increasingly clear" that Romney will be the GOP nominee. It led to this on-air endorsement:

For those who can't clips online, here's the part where Rubio said nice things about the candidate he now formally supports: "In Mitt Romney, we have a candidate, an alternative, that in addition to being successful as a governor running an important state in this country, has also been successful in the private sector and offers a very clear alternative to the direction this president is going to take our country."

That was it. In making his high-profile endorsement of Romney on national television, Rubio offered one sentence about why he believes Romney should be president of the United States. Indeed, after saying this one sentence, Rubio went back to talking about how important it is for the party to pick a nominee before the convention.

The senator spoke at length and with great passion about why he detests President Obama, and similarly, went on and on about the perils of a prolonged nomination fight, but when touting the man he wants to be leader of the free world next year, Rubio came up with one underwhelming sentence.

This isn't a good sign. What's more, it appears to be part of a pattern.

Remember, last week Jeb Bush threw his support to Romney -- in a press release, with no public statement -- with generic praise. The former Florida governor said he supports Romney, not because he's a visionary leader for our times, but because 34 states have held primaries and caucuses, so it seems like as good a time as any to "unite."

Rubio's remarks on Fox News were similar: Romney's fine, but what really matters is wrapping up the process and attacking the president.

These aren't Republican leaders who look at their party's likely nominee and say, "Romney is an inspiration and will be a terrific American president." Rather, these are Republican leaders who seem to be arguing, "Romney's adequate, there's no one else, so let's get this over with."

The GOP doesn't believe in Romney; the GOP is willing to settle on Romney because it doesn't feel as if it has much of a choice.

The absence of passion is hard to miss.

Postscript: Asked towards the end of the interview about joining the Romney ticket as the vice presidential nominee, the senator said, "That's not what I want to be." As best as I can tell, that's the first time Rubio has said this publicly, and I'm inclined to think it was an accident.