The traditional model of campaigning says candidates should focus on their strengths and downplay their areas of weakness. Karl Rove, however, helped introduce a very different kind of approach to GOP politics: shine a light on your vulnerability, inoculate yourself on the issue, and leave your rival with nothing.
It’s why, for example, we saw a draft-dodging Republican attack the military service of a Democratic war hero in 2004.
Marco Rubio appears to be reading from the same playbook. The biggest hurdle between the Florida senator and his party’s presidential nomination is his co-authorship of President Obama’s bipartisan immigration bill two years ago – legislation that the Republican base hates like poison. So Rubio is going after his primary rival, Ted Cruz, over the one issue Rubio would seemingly prefer to ignore.
Writing in Salon the other day, Digby questioned the merits of Rubio’s strategy to deal with his principal problem.
Apparently he’s decided that the best way to make people forget his immigration apostasy, when he joined with Democrats on the notorious Gang of 8 to hammer out a Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill, is to draw as much attention to it as possible by picking a losing fight with Ted Cruz. He seems to think that aggressively accusing his rival of abandoning his conservative principles in the same way he did will somehow make his own betrayal go away.All it’s accomplished is to make every conservative in the land think even less of him than they did before.
The Washington Examiner’s Byron York wrote a brutal, matter-of-fact-style piece yesterday, laying out the undisputed details of the 2013 immigration fight, and the role Rubio and Cruz played during the ideological battle. Rubio desperately wants voters to believe, as he put it on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, that “there isn’t that big a difference between [Cruz] and I on how to approach immigration.” York’s piece makes it unambiguously clear that the claim is a rather brazen lie: Rubio partnered with Democrats in trying to pass the bill; Cruz partnered with conservatives in trying to kill it. The dynamic really is that simple.
But just as important on a tactical level is that the bogus claim has the effect of reminding Republicans what it is about Rubio they dislike so much.
Why isn’t the ol’ Rovian special working?
Part of the problem is that it’s tougher to pull off in a primary, as opposed to a general election, but just as important is the fact that Rubio is asking people to believe that Ted Cruz, even while trying to kill the bipartisan immigration bill in the last Congress, wasn’t particularly conservative when it came to immigration.
And that, by any sensible measure, is simply impossible to believe. It’s why Rubio appears to be making his problem worse, not better, by shining a spotlight on his most potent vulnerability.
What’s more, even as much as the Republican establishment, like much of the Beltway media, fawns over the Florida senator, Rubio has reopened wounds he hoped were already healed. The New York Times reported the other day:
Senator Marco Rubio made a big bet on an immigration overhaul that failed – and he has been running away from it since. Now his past is catching up with him, stoking old grievances from conservative rivals who are reopening one of the most vulnerable episodes in his past.The anger toward Mr. Rubio on the right has only grown in recent days as he has taken to aggressively questioning Senator Ted Cruz’s toughness on illegal immigration, a line of attack that some Republicans say they find disingenuous.
The piece noted that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a fierce opponent of immigration reform, recently said on a conservative radio show, “I think Senator Rubio has to answer for things that were in that bill…. This presidential election is going to decide who runs the White House: the crowd that pushed this legislation or the crowd that opposed it.”
Maybe Rubio should have picked the fight in July, at which point this would be old news, instead of waiting for December?