The contours of the Republican presidential race are increasingly obvious. A three-man top tier -- Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio -- are positioned to compete for the party's nomination, and if that trio represents the top three in the New Hampshire primary early next week, their rivals will likely find their paths to success permanently blocked.
Every GOP candidate is well aware of this, and some of those who expected to come up short in New Hampshire decided to quit in recent days. But of particular interest are Chris Christie and Jeb Bush, who've invested heavily in the Granite State, and who are quietly beginning to cooperate a bit. The New York Times reported
this week on the "back-channel" cooperation between the two camps, both of which are facing possible elimination.
While emails, texts and phone calls between operatives in rival campaigns are not uncommon in the tight-knit world of political strategists, the contact among senior aides in the two campaigns has drifted toward musings about what can be done to stop or at least slow Mr. Rubio, the operatives said. In a sign of a budding alliance, the aides have, for example, exchanged news articles that raise potential areas of vulnerability for Mr. Rubio. There is no formal coordination, the operatives stressed, but rather a recognition of a shared agenda.
It's tempting to think of this as a non-aggression pact, but that's an incomplete description. Bush and Christie haven't just decided to avoid attacking each other, they've also agreed to start attacking the candidate they see in their way.
So, what are they offering? Both Republican governors slammed Rubio yesterday for the fact that he's never actually accomplished anything
in public office -- a nagging detail the senator and much of the party prefer to overlook --- and Christie told a New Hampshire audience yesterday, in reference to the Florida senator, "He's not ready to be president
But there was something else Christie said
during an MSNBC interview that struck me as interesting.
"I will tell you one thing Marco Rubio has done, he has made it very clear that on the issue of pro-life, Marco Rubio is not for an exception for ... rape, incest or life of the mother," Christie said.... "Now, you know, I think that's the kind of position that New Hampshire voters would be really concerned about," he added. "I'm pro-life, but I believe that rape, incest and life of the mother -- as Ronald Reagan did -- should be exceptions to that rule."
As a factual matter, Christie's critique wasn't entirely accurate. Christie is correct that Rubio believes the government should force women impregnated by rapists to take that pregnancy to term, and the senator also rejects an incest exception, but Rubio does support a life-of-the-mother exception. The Floridian would be the most right-wing GOP nominee in the post Roe v. Wade era, but the details are worth clarifying.
What struck me as noteworthy, though, is that this is one of the few instances in this cycle that a Republican went after a rival from the left. The obvious question is, was that a mistake? Given the radicalization of GOP politics, is such a tactic doomed?
Maybe not. Remember, New Hampshire isn't Iowa, and New England Republicans aren't always reflexively right-wing on social issues the way the GOP is in most of the country. There's some evidence that a plurality of New Hampshire Republicans are actually pro-choice
-- which is not at all the norm for the party at a national level -- a detail Christie and his aides are apparently aware of.
It's an angle to keep an eye on as the primary draws closer, especially in tomorrow night's debate. Will New Hampshire Republicans who keep hearing about Rubio as a "mainstream" and "establishment" candidate think twice after learning about his extremism on reproductive rights?