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Ready or not, the Republican circus gets a new clown

As the pressure rises, and the senator starts to panic, Marco Rubio's instincts tell him to take the campaign into the gutter.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., talks to supporters, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Miami. (Photo by Luis M. Alvarez/AP)
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., talks to supporters, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Miami.
One of the more compelling concerns among Republicans worried about Donald Trump has to do with maturity: the New York developer just doesn't have the temperament of an American president. Whatever his talents, Trump's skill set doesn't include displaying dignity and grace.
It was a little unsettling, then, to see what's become of Marco Rubio's pitch on the eve of Super Tuesday. NBC News reported overnight:

In response to the property mogul calling him "little Rubio," Rubio conceded that Trump was taller than him. However, the Florida senator suggested Trump had small hands for his height. "And you know what they say about guys with small hands," Rubio said with a smile, prompting stunned laughter from the crowd. After a brief pause he added: "You can't trust 'em!" The crowd responded with applause.

Congratulations, Republicans. We've reached the point in the race for the GOP nomination in which the establishment favorite appears to be telling jokes about the size of his rival's penis.
It helped add an exclamation point to a weekend in which Rubio thought it would be hilarious to tell jokes about Trump's hair and skin color. "Donald Trump likes to sue people," Rubio told an audience on Saturday. "He should sue whoever did that to his face."
On Friday, Rubio mocked Trump's sweat and suggested the GOP frontrunner urinates on himself.
This is more than just a campaign curiosity; we're actually learning quite a bit about who Marco Rubio really is. It's no small detail that as the pressure rises, and the Florida senator starts to panic about the state of the race, Rubio's inclination is to go after his chief rival in the crudest and most childish way possible. When the going gets tough, the tough go the gutter?
What's more, consider what Rubio apparently thinks about the Republican Party's voters. On the eve of Super Tuesday, behind in the polls, Rubio believes he can get ahead by relying on tasteless bathroom humor. In other words, the senator sees Trump leading in the polls, which has prompted him to effectively declare, "Oh, you like buffoonish clowns? No problem! I can be a fool, too!"In this case, it's hardly an exaggeration. Todd Harris, a senior Rubio adviser, acknowledged to the Boston Globe that the campaign "came to the conclusion" that there are advantages to "being part of the circus." 
At an event in Alabama on Saturday, Rubio added that his parents didn't raise him to speak this way, but the senator believes such rhetoric has become necessary.
It's not. This may be strategically effective -- many in the media have applauded Rubio's descent into the gutter for reasons I don't understand -- and it may even pay electoral dividends. Perhaps Rubio's correct, maybe GOP primary voters really do want a clown. If that means Rubio has to buy a rubber nose and a whoopee cushion to remain competitive, that's what he's willing to do.
But did Reagan ever campaign this way? Either of the Bushes? How about Dole, McCain, and Romney? Can anyone seriously imagine any of these GOP leaders telling penis jokes in public after suggesting a rival urinates on himself?
There's something fundamentally sad about watching a candidate for the nation's highest office abandon dignity, on purpose, in order to offer an echo of the candidate he hopes to defeat. It wasn't enough for Rubio to abandon optimism for pessimism; the senator also had to adopt Trump's junior-high-locker-room antics?
I've followed Rubio pretty closely since his 2010 Senate race, and I'll confess, I thought he had more self-respect than this. His right-wing worldview has long been unsettling, but his willingness to put expediency over propriety comes as a surprise.
As we discussed on Friday, all of this serves as a reminder about the scope of Trump's victory. Whether or not he's the Republican nominee, the current frontrunner has already managed to convince the cycle's most competitive GOP candidates to follow his lead on issue positions, rhetoric, and even classlessness.