I’ve never worked for a presidential campaign, but I imagine it’s difficult to hear from armchair quarterbacks, each of whom are eager to tell you “exactly what you need to do to win.” From outside the arena, it seems easy to identify why a candidacy is coming up short, and everyone seems to have an opinion about how to get back on track.
After his latest double-digit loss in a state he expected to win, Marco Rubio’s phone is no doubt ringing quite a bit, with Republican insiders having all kinds of ideas about how to turn his campaign around. If media buzz is any indication, most of the advice is simple: attack Donald Trump, throw him off balance, weaken his support, and surpass him. Piece of cake.
And while the Florida senator has generally focused much of his criticisms at Ted Cruz, Rubio was willing to call out the GOP frontrunner by name yesterday. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent flagged Rubio’s new line of attack.
At a rally late yesterday, Rubio called out Trump by name and faulted him for being insufficiently hostile to Obamacare and insufficiently supportive of Israel. “He thinks parts of Obamacare are pretty good,” Rubio scoffed, before casting himself as the only true scourge of the law. Rubio noted that Trump “has said he’s not going to take sides on Israel versus the Palestinians because he wants to be an honest broker.”Rubio also hit Trump for being inexperienced and ignorant on foreign policy, arguing that he’d be tougher and more knowledgeable.
For pundits demanding Rubio go on the offensive against Trump, these developments will no doubt be applauded. And who knows, maybe Team Rubio has found the silver bullets Republicans have been looking for and these criticisms will work wonders.
But I rather doubt it. In fact, this is actually emblematic of the problem that’s plagued the party for months: Republican officials and elites want to tear Trump down, but they have no idea how.
Rubio’s new lines share a theme: Trump has shown insufficient fealty to GOP orthodoxy. There’s a script Republicans are supposed to follow on health care and Israel, and the 2016 frontrunner has, at times, failed to read his lines the way the party demands.
Ergo, Republican primary voters should think twice before backing him.
But haven’t we heard this before? The conventional wisdom is that GOP candidates and officials have treated Trump with kid gloves, but the truth is, Trump has traded blows with plenty of Republicans, including former national rivals such as Rick Perry, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, and Rand Paul. Trump has also been on the receiving end of attack ads from allies of Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush.
In nearly all of the instances, the criticisms have focused on – you guessed it – Trump’s breaks with party orthodoxy. Republicans keep telling Republicans that Trump isn’t a good enough Republican.
As the election results show, this hasn’t done much to interrupt his victories at the ballot box, perhaps in part because Trump’s appeal has so little to do with traditional partisanship.
Greg added, “Rubio is largely constrained into launching thoroughly conventional Republican attacks on this thoroughly unconventional politician.” The senator may not feel like he has any other choice, but it’s a risky bet on a dubious strategy with a poor track record.