The three Republican governors seeking their party’s presidential nomination each criticized Marco Rubio this weekend, saying the first-term senator from Florida is not ready to succeed Barack Obama next year.
In a debate televised by ABC News from Goffstown, New Hampshire, Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, went after Rubio the hardest. “You have not been involved in a consequential decision where you had to be held accountable,” he told Rubio. “You just simply haven’t.”
The Floridian responded by claiming that Obama, who was a first-term senator when he was elected, came to the office with a clear plan to change America — and repeated the talking point four more times, verbatim, as though it in any way vindicated his own lack of executive experience.
Eventually Christie interjected and dismissed what he called Rubio’s “memorized 25-second speech that is exactly what his advisers gave him.”
“He’s a good guy,” Christie told Fox News Sunday the next day. “But he’s just not ready to be president.”
Rubio, appearing on ABC’s This Week, doubled down, though, saying he would continue making the point about Obama “because it happens to be one of the main reasons why I am running.”
Christie and Rubio are competing for the same center-right voters in New Hampshire’s presidential primary on Tuesday.
Rubio, who placed third in Iowa, the first voting state, last week, hopes to come in second to property tycoon Donald Trump this time so he can position himself as the only alternative to the foulmouthed New York businessman on the one hand and Ted Cruz, a far-right senator from Texas, on the other.
Cruz won the Iowa caucuses, but his take-no-prisoners approach to politics is unappealing to everyone except the most uncompromising of right-wing voters.
Christie and Rubio are not the only ones counting on a strong showing in New Hampshire to stay relevant. So are Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, and John Kasich, the current governor of Ohio.
Bush criticized Rubio, his former protégé, in the previous debate for trying to overhaul America’s immigration system in 2013 only to “cut and run” when it turned out to be unpopular on the right.
On Saturday, he recognized that Rubio is a “gifted politician” and “may have the skills to be a president of the United States” — one day.
“But we’ve tried it the old way with Barack Obama,” he added, “with soaring eloquence and we got — we didn’t get a leader, we got someone who wants to divide the country up.”
Bush later told Fox News Sunday, “The simple fact is, I’m a leader.”
Who will be Mr Normal?
Kasich, appearing on the same program, rejected the notion that he is competing with Bush, Christie and Rubio for the position of establishment favorite.
“I am not an establishment candidate,” he said, despite having served eighteen years in Congress and working as an investment banker before returning to politics in 2010. “And I’m not an anti-establishment candidate.”
The RealClearPolitics average of polls has Bush and Kasich around 10 percent each in New Hampshire, followed by Christie at 5 percent. Cruz is at 12 percent, Rubio at 15 and Trump at 31.
If the three (former) governors were rolled up into one person, they could probably defeat both Rubio and Trump.
In a nominating contest dominated by anger, insults and a distrust of experience, the numbers nevertheless give Leonid Bershidsky hope. The commentator points out at Bloomberg View that the “normal” candidates put together are more popular than Cruz and Trump. “Most people are normal, after all,” Bershidsky writes, “otherwise the norm would be different.”
But he also recognizes the problem: “none of the three wants to give up after New Hampshire unless their result is a wipeout.”
And the longer moderately conservative voters — who want a candidate who can actually defeat Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in November and then go on to govern — have to split their support three ways, the better a chance Cruz or Rubio has of winning in the end.