If Donald Trump is your worst nightmare, Marco Rubio was your knight in shining armor on Thursday night.
Here’s my main point, and you can read whatever else I add if you care to. Attacking Trump is not a way of campaigning for the presidency, and that – attacking Trump – is what Rubio did tonight that had the anti-Trump contingent swooning.
I will say for the hundredth time that I am not a Trump supporter. I don’t say this as someone who wants Trump to win, or thinks he’s a credible presidential candidate.
But it’s shortsighted to think that the primary season needs to be about “exposing Trump,” or “putting dents in Trump,” or otherwise spending the GOP’s few precious moments with a national audience delivering face-slaps to Trump over his tax returns, his undoubted policy incoherence, and his business activities from 30 years ago.
There was a big difference tonight between Rubio and Ted Cruz . The difference was that Cruz was campaigning for president. Rubio was attacking Trump.
I’m telling you, folks, that’s not going to sell. Not the way Rubio’s Beltway cheerleading squad thinks it is. It sells with them. It doesn’t sell with most undecided voters out there.
The more Rubio impresses a specialized segment of the electorate – the people who are desperate for a viable “establishment” candidate to win little points over Trump – the more he disappoints me as someone who doesn’t know how to chart his own course.
I carry no brief for Trump, and I think he’d make a poor president. But you know what? He’s a guy who knows how to chart his own course. In that way, he and Cruz are alike. It’s that quality in Trump that his supporters are responding to. Of the remaining candidates, Carson is the other man who displays that characteristic.
We did get some nice sound bites from Carson:
“Can somebody attack me, please?”
“Fruit salad of life.” (We report, you decide.)
“If North Korea launches a missile at us, it ought to be the last thing they ever do.”
Kasich promised to lock people in rooms, which apparently has been his practice as governor of Ohio.
We learned from Trump that he thinks it’s important to approach the (now-defunct) “Middle East peace process” with a neutral position between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. I thought it was actually more interesting to see Cruz and Rubio competing to affirm that our stance ought to be unapologetically pro-Israel, and that both of them associated the Palestinian Arabs with terrorism and bad faith, without caveat or qualification. That’s quite a change from the way presidential candidates have typically addressed the topic since the Oslo Accords more than 20 years ago, and it’s emblematic of how much things changed after Obama took office.
Trump left us with other indelible memories of his peculiar foreign policy views: that we’d be better off if Gadhafi and Saddam were still in power; that we can’t afford to defend allies like Japan and South Korea anymore; and that Trump would negotiate way, way more money from our allies than someone else (Rubio?) would.
We also learned that Trump will now make Mexico pay for a wall 10 feet higher than before. We learned that, in Trump’s view, the border with Canada is “many, many times” longer than the border with Mexico. We learned all kinds of things about the entertaining but absurd things Trump will say – and then afterward, all the talking heads fell to talking about…Trump.
Way to pop Trump’s balloon, people. We haven’t seen such ineptitude in a political scrum since whatever stupid thing the NFL leadership last did.
I feel sorry for Rubio. He’s not a bad person. But he’s not a strategist or a born fighter either – and that’s on display for all the world to see. He’s being deployed now against Trump, by folks who don’t see that the old-consensus status quo is unendurable for the ordinary people, and it has to change.
Rubio’s evanescing position comes off that way, and it will come off more so in the days ahead. He’s good with the one-liners, sure. Nevertheless, although people won’t be quite able to articulate why, they’ll recognize that Rubio is not the hand they want to put all their chips on.
Meanwhile, the larger phenomenon is Trump’s invulnerability to the silly, shortsighted tactics being used against him. The more he is frontally attacked on personal, specious grounds, the more attention he gets and the more everyone ends up talking about him.
It’s like Donald Trump is a 69-year-old toddler who decided to have a big tantrum, and the GOP and conservative media establishment are a bunch of weak-spined, frazzled adults who have no idea how to handle a toddler’s tantrum. Kind of a comprehensive metaphor for a lot of things going on in America today.