Marco Rubio — once the young, rising future superstar of the GOP — officially suspended his campaign after suffering a humiliating defeat by double digits in his home state of Florida to brash billionaire Donald Trump, who celebrated another big night of primary victories.

“While it is not God’s plan that I be president in 2016 — or maybe ever — and while today my campaign is suspended, the fact that I’ve even come this far is evidence of how special America really is,” the 44-year-old Rubio told supporters last night.

“While this may not have been the year for a hopeful and optimistic message for our future,” he added, “I still remain hopeful and optimistic about America.”

Trump dominated the Sunshine State with the exception of Miami, where Rubio lives. But it was a psychological knockout blow to the first-term Florida senator and a big boost to Trump, who picked up all of the state’s 99 delegates.

Bowing out last night, Rubio acknowledged the rage and frustration sweeping the Republican Party but tried to draw a distinction between what he cast as his positive American outlook and Trump’s crass and inflammatory style.

“From a political standpoint, the easiest thing to have done in this campaign is to jump on all those anxieties … to make people angrier, to make people more frustrated, but I chose a different route, and I’m proud of that,” Rubio said.

Meanwhile, Gov. John Kasich won his home state of Ohio — his only victory out of 28 state contests thus far — and its 66 delegates, passing a crucial test he needed to stay alive. He’s now the Republican establishment’s lone hope to knock off Trump and could soon be the beneficiary of an infusion of campaign donations, but he’s woefully behind Trump and Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in the delegate count.

“We put one foot in front of the other, and I want to remind you again tonight that I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land,” Kasich told supporters.

Trump was still the night’s big winner, between the major Florida victory and triumphs in Illinois, North Carolina and the Northern Mariana Islands. Trump led Cruz by less than 2,000 votes in Missouri, where vote-counting continued well into the morning.

Trump won Illinois despite being forced to cancel his Chicago rally Friday night amid violence, protests and security concerns.

“Nobody has ever, ever in the history of politics received the kind of negative advertising that I have,” Trump told supporters. “By the way, mostly false. I wouldn’t say 100 percent, but about 90 percent. Mostly false.”

Trump also praised Rubio: “He’s tough, he’s smart, and he’s got a great future.”

Rubio entered the crowded GOP primary as one of the favorites, but he was never able to emerge from the long shadow of Trump.

He had hoped to stop Trump before Super Tuesday by beating him at his own game of insults and one-liners, even ridiculing the size of the real-estate mogul’s hands. But the strategy backfired and Trump continued to roll through primary after primary, with Rubio consistently placing a distant third.

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(c)2016 the Boston Herald

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