Governors Jeb Bush and Chris Christie join forces with Senator Ted Cruz to attack the most popular Republican running for president in 2016–Marco Rubio. Both Bush and Christie struggle to get campaign momentum, and hope New Hampshire will offer a breath of new life and an end to the donor hemorrhaging. Senator Cruz, on the other hand, appears to have wounded Donald Trump’s candidacy by beating him in Iowa, and expects–as many do–that Trump’s time atop the field will wane as voting continues. His next most credible threat comes from Rubio, the consensus candidate who has been scooping up high profile endorsements–even from former 2016 contenders. For Rubio’s part, he must decide how to respond to the attacks: either by breaking with the aspirational tone of his campaign to return fire at his detractors, or by rising above the noise in hopes that his strategy will continue to bear fruit as his competitors fall away.
Rubio’s choice will be evident beginning with the only debate between the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. What should also be evident is how weak and petty his attackers’ cases purport to be. Christie and Bush plan to attack Rubio’s inexperience–a route the more junior senator, Cruz, cannot pursue. Cruz, in his typical fashion, wishes to score points by attacking Rubio’s immigration stance. Assuming Rubio remains poised and positive, none of these attacks should draw blood.
On Rubio’s Experience
If Republicans should have learned anything from Barack Obama’s candidacy and presidency, it should have been that inexperience is an overrated line of attack. For starters, the attack failed when employed by Senator John McCain in 2008 and by Governor Mitt Romney in 2012. Especially in an election year in which the media narrative names 2016 the year of the outsider. Rubio can turn the inexperience argument into a derivative of Ben Carson’s and Carly Fiorina’s speeches about career politicians’ culpability for America’s woes.
More to the point, though, inexperience has not harmed the Obama presidency. None of Obama’s most egregious acts resulted from his lack of experience. Rather, his worldview is to blame. Inexperience did not lead to the failed Stimulus Package–a belief in big government did. Inexperience did not lead to the Affordable Care Act–a belief in big government did. Obama’s failed foreign policy did not result from a lack of executive experience. Instead, he was led by the liberal belief that America should be less involved in world events.
Marco Rubio’s lack of executive experience says nothing about what matters most–his conservative convictions. A conservative as experienced as Barack Obama was in 2007 can still offer hope to a movement looking to turn the country in a better direction.
Senator Cruz’ attacks on immigration will likely fall flat for a few reasons. First, Rubio is right in insisting that the 12 million illegal immigrants to this country cannot be deported. The cost to detain, try and ultimately deport costs too much money for very little (if any) benefit. Furthermore, the economic costs of uprooting large swaths of the American workforce and home owners only compounds the impossibility of such a policy. Senator Cruz either knows this, and is promising to do so anyway (lying), or does not know this–making him stupid. Cruz is not stupid, but he does have a reputation for bending the truth for political gain.
Secondly, Rubio’s approach to immigration varies neither from Christie’s nor from Bush’s. Rubio can easily deflect Cruz’ criticism by using his enemies as a shield.
Thirdly, immigration ranks much lower on the list of issues most pressing to Americans at large than it does on Republicans’ priority list. New Hampshire; being less conservative than Iowa, and being a state that allows independents to vote in the primary; likely will not punish Rubio for whatever heresy he has committed on this issue.
Finally, Rubio has claimed to have learned his lesson from the Gang of 8 experience (which, incidentally passed in the Senate, unlike any legislation Ted Cruz was a part of). His stance on immigration falls within the mainstream of the Republican Party and within the country on a whole.
The attacks on Rubio have been loathsome, not just because they threaten to damage him if he becomes the nominee, but also because they lower the stature of some very good conservative patriots. Governor Christie has so much to boast about without resorting to negativity. Bush, too, possesses unmatched substance and intelligence to continue to bring to the conservative cause and the Republican Party. These attacks are beneath him, especially as Rubio’s mentor. The Republican Party–indeed the nation–needs unity now, more than ever. Republicans can neither win nor govern effectively without unity. Attacking a young, rising star will do more damage to the party, the attackers’ reputations, and to the country than perhaps Rubio’s detractors realize.