Republican U.S. presidential candidate former Governor Jeb Bush speaks as U.S. Senator Marco Rubio looks on at the 2016 U.S. Republican presidential candidates debate held by CNBC in Boulder, Colo, Oct. 28, 2015.
Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters

Team Jeb prepares for ‘political combat’ with Rubio

Nearly all recent polling suggests Jeb Bush is running fifth in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, trailing Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio. If the former Florida governor is going to climb back into the top tier, he’ll probably have to drag one of his rivals down and take their place.
There’s one obvious choice. Bush and his team no doubt realize that the top four GOP candidates appeal to different constituencies within the party, and Rubio is the one in Bush’s “lane.” Of the most competitive candidates, the young senator easily enjoys the most support from the Republican establishment – backing Jeb expected to lock up months ago – making Rubio an existential threat to Bush’s ambitions.
And with this in mind, the New York Times reports today that a group of Bush supporters are “seething with anger” over Rubio’s rise and are now “eager for political combat.” As part of the offensive, Bush’s allies “are privately threatening a wave of scathing attacks on his former protege.”
The cash-rich group aiding Jeb Bush’s White House run has filmed a provocative video casting his rival Marco Rubio as ultimately unelectable because of his hard-line stand against abortion.
That group, which has raised more than $100 million, has asked voters in New Hampshire how they feel about Mr. Rubio’s skipping important votes in the Senate.
And the group’s chief strategist has boasted of his willingness to spend as much as $20 million to damage Mr. Rubio’s reputation and halt his sudden ascent in the polls, according to three people told of the claim.
As a rule, telegraphing punches is a bad idea. Consider, for example, what happened two weeks ago: Bush went out of his way to draw attention to his criticisms of Rubio’s missed Senate votes, and when the subject came up in a debate, Rubio had a scripted reply ready.
So why do it again? Some skepticism is probably in order.
According to the NYT report, Bush’s backers have already put together a video slamming Rubio as so right-wing on reproductive rights that the senator may be unelectable. As a substantive matter, the argument is not without merit: Rubio would be the first GOP nominee in the post-Roe era to argue that the government has the authority to force women impregnated by a rapist to take that pregnancy to term.
But as a tactical matter, it would be a bizarre line of attack. We are, after all, talking about a Republican primary and the effort to appeal to far-right voters who make up the party’s hard-line base. Team Jeb thinks they’ll bring Rubio down a peg by reminding the public that the senator opposes abortion rights?
What’s next, complaining that Rubio opposes “Obamacare,” too?
My suspicion is that there is no “provocative video” about Rubio’s right-wing approach to reproductive rights. I also seriously doubt this will be a line of attack in tonight’s debate. Rather, I’d bet this was pitched to the New York Times to spur some chatter within the GOP establishment, including the high-dollar donor class, which (a) reads the New York Times; (b) is concerned about electability; and (c) probably isn’t altogether comfortable with Rubio’s culture-war extremism.
In other words, maybe the leak to the NYT was about seeing an article that can be sent around and discussed at lengths in private conversations.