Sen. Marco Rubio’s self-destructive pummeling at the hands of Gov. Chris Christie just before the New Hampshire primary might not only be the moment where he ruined his chances to win the nomination, it will also likely go down as one of the final death throes of the hopes of The Republican Establishment. Rubio was always weak; Christie just made this obvious to Republicans.
Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse February 9, 2016
Emil Lendof/The Daily Beast
UPDATE: February 10th Rubio fell from 2nd to 5th place when the votes in New Hampshire were finally cast, behind Trump, Kasich, Cruz, and Bush. Maybe he’ll end up as a VP-nominee, but after his New Hampshire collapse—which he acknowledged had a lot to do with the debate—we can consider this article an obituary on Rubio’s chances to be the nominee, as well as an obituary for the chances of The Republican Establishment to stop Trump from getting the nomination.
AMMAN — The closer and longer America looks at the Republican Party, the more glaringly visible are its appalling faults for all to see. For months, the more mainstream conservative media has been peddling freshman Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as a substantive alternative to the insanity of Trump, Cruz, and Carson. Like Lincoln with Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation, The Republican Establishment was looking for any semblance of a victory for the young senator to be able to throw its substantial weight behind his candidacy, staving off what would almost certainly be the disastrous general election candidacies of Trump or Cruz. America got a great look at Rubio in Saturday night’s debate, and the fact that this man was seen as the last hope for more “substantive” Republicans is a damning testament to the utter lack of substance in today’s Republican Party. Rubio’s stunningly poor performance was a form of political suicide, and, while only the latest in a series of episodes that is collectively the sad suicide of one of America’s great political parties, this episode may very well go down as the nail in the coffin of the near-term political hopes for the non-crazy-wing of the Republican Party.
Rubio seems pretty bright, but at the same time, every time I have seen him with a chance to really shine, I have felt his performances have been pretty weak and show a serious lack of depth. From his now-infamous water-bottle hijinks during his 2013 State of the Union response to his shallowness during the Iran hearings to this recent terrible debate performance, I have found that Rubio looks appealing at a first and casual glance but then you can really see him wither under the spotlight and under pressure. Much of his campaign narrative is based on flat-out distortions and outright lies added on top of his Cuban-American family’s American Dream story. He performed generally well at a number of debates, but during those crowded debates that were sparse on detail he was not viewed as a threat by his fellow Republicans who shared the stage with him. That changed in the last few debates before the Iowa caucus, and he started taking hits from other candidates. With his late-Iowa surge and seeming like The Establishment was ready to back him, Rubio went into New Hampshire with a huge target on his back. Even before the debate, Chris Christie took up the banner of the anti-Rubio cause, and he rammed it right into Rubio during the debate, possibly skewering Rubio’s chances to be the anti-Trump candidate.
The way Christie’s beat-down went down was quite remarkable, and I am simply stunned at how poorly handled it was by Rubio. For one thing, Christie and Rubio have been tangling with each other for some time, and attacking Rubio for lacking experience and depth is not anything new for Christie. Objectively, experience and depth are among Rubio’s greatest weaknesses, and to not have a good response lined up for such lines of attack is, simply put, incredibly stupid and irresponsible as they are such obvious lines of attack. Without a doubt, he and his staff committed a mortal sin in not preparing better for this moment. In the days before the debate, Christie loudly signaled his intent to go after Rubio on these very terms, so Rubio had absolutely no excuse not to be prepared. Even one of his supporters, former candidate Rick Santorum, had trouble naming any accomplishments of Rubio’s. This incident generated a question for Rubio from one of the moderators during Saturday’s debate about whether Rubio had the experience necessary to be president. Basically, the moderator was giving Rubio the perfect chance to address what is the obvious elephant in the room as far as his presidential ambitions are concerned. It is an opportunity that the Rubio and his staff should have been awaiting and relishing.
So, how did Rubio respond to the question? He very vaguely and very briefly mentioned some “accomplishments,” then went into an attack on Joe Biden as an attack on experience, then ended with a rehearsed line about how Obama “knows exactly what he’s doing,” that he is trying “to make America more like the rest of the world.” He spent very little time explaining his own record, and the pivot to Obama had nothing to do with the question. The moderator then turned to Christie, who was also referenced in the question, and Christie went right into Rubio. He talked about how senators are a lot more talk than action, and how he as a governor was more about action and problems solving, and how he is held accountable in ways that senators are not. Rubio had mentioned three accomplishments, and Christie pointed out that Rubio did not even bother to show up in the Senate to vote on one of those “accomplishments.” He compared Rubio to Obama, who himself was a first-time senator with little national experience when he won the presidency, making the case to his Republican audience that Rubio was another Obama and that the nation could not afford another Obama. Christie’s attacks were met with applause.
Rubio responded with a somewhat misleading attack on New Jersey’s credit rating, and then, strangely, repeated the line about Obama wanting to change America, that Obama knew exactly what he was doing.
Then Christie devoured the neophyte Rubio, to raucous applause:
“You see, everybody, I want the people at home to think about this. That’s what Washington, D.C. Does. The drive-by shot at the beginning with incorrect and incomplete information and then the memorized 25-second speech that is exactly what his advisers gave him. See Marco — Marco, the thing is this. When you’re president of the United States, when you’re a governor of a state, the memorized 30-second speech where you talk about how great America is at the end of it doesn’t solve one problem for one person. They expect you to plow the snow. They expect you to get the schools open. And when the worst natural disaster in your state’s history hits you, they expect you to rebuild their state, which is what I’ve done. None of that stuff happens on the floor of the United States Senate. It’s a fine job, I’m glad you ran for it, but it does not prepare you for president of the United States.”
Rubio then attacked Christie in a cheap way that earned him boos, and then Rubio shocked and amazed: he repeated then “Obama knows exactly what he is doing” spiel, so that Christie could point out, to laughter and applause: “There it is. There it is. The memorized 25-second speech. There it is, everybody.” With the crowd clearly against him, even booing him, Rubio then seconds later made the same speech Christie was criticizing him for an additional two times in response!!
The Establishment Republicans must have been bashing their collective heads against their collective walls.
The two started sniping and talking over each other, but just before then end, Christie lobbed this attack at Rubio, to applause: “It gets very unruly when he gets off his talking points.”
Rubio simply reacted as if he had no way to counter Christie and had not even thought of how to do so, and even kept repeating a line he had just been destroyed for using seconds earlier. About forty-five minutes later, Rubio was trying to respond to accusations of not fighting for his own immigration bill, and Rubio’s response at that moment, rather than defend his own action, was to again deliver his line about Obama wanting to change America, to boos. The defining moment of the debate for most, besides possibly a Bush/Trump clash (I would argue that was the #2 moment of the debate), was Rubio playing right into Christie’s hands as just described and looking like a robotic, shallow fool for his efforts.
After the debate, as if incapable of adjusting, he has been campaigning in much the same stilted way.
This is not a serious man running a serious campaign when you get past his and his campaign’s surfaces; rather, we see a self-entitled, immature rookie with little depth. He would get demolished by Hillary Clinton in a national one-on-one debate. For all the comparisons of Obama and Rubio, there is a vast gulf between the two when they were running in that Obama had actually put a lot of thought into his candidacy and the issues and could respond at length to any question without simply delivering rehearsed lines; his intellectual depth was never in doubt even if his experience was. Now, Marco Rubio’s entire campaign is in doubt after a gaffe that is generally representative of his faults and weaknesses, and it is a gaffe that is nothing like anything Obama ever did during a debate or on the campaign trail.
Rubio was poised to be a star going into the New Hampshire primary, with the stars aligning to make him come in at least second in the contest, perhaps even giving him a surprise win. That so many of the more serious and intellectual Republicans were placing their hopes on such a weak candidate says a lot about the state of the Republican Party and its lack of seriousness and depth. To quote Gov. Christie when he addressed Rubio in an earlier debate, with this latest debate, “You already had your chance Marco, you blew it” (or, to quote The Economist, “Mr. Rubio flunked his chance”). It is quite unlikely now that Rubio will come in second-place, but it is likely he will do worse than even third as both Govs. John Kasich and Jeb Bush have been surging after their strong debate performances, ground games, and positive messages.
Trump retains a large lead in polling but a majority of voters likely to take part in the Republican primary and over a third of voters likely to participate in the Democratic primary are still not firmly decided on whom they will vote for today, and then there’s New Hampshire’s apparent famous independents who can vote in either primary. Trump is likely to win, Kasich or even Jeb! Bush are likely to come in second and/or third, (if Kasich is # 2 or even wins this could especially be problematic for The Establishment because Kasich will likely get almost no traction in the South and will steal thunder from candidates who could) but almost anything is possible with so many candidates and so many undecideds. Going into South Carolina, it could still look like Trump is the front-runner with a muddled picture of who will be able to rally the opposition to him; the Republican side could be anarchic and chaotic for some time to come, as it has been for the entire campaign season. And while on the Democratic side, Bernie has been keeping a huge lead in polling over Clinton, she appears to be narrowing the gap. Those undecideds will make or break New Hampshire for candidates of both parties, then.
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