Don’t Marco Rubio’s supporters think he can win on his own?
You would think from their calls on Jeb Bush, another Republican presidential candidate, to get out of the race before the first primary is even held in New Hampshire next week.
Bush and his campaign have divided their criticism between Rubio and Donald Trump. The latter seems to come from a genuine sense of alarm about the foulmouthed property tycoon’s rise in the polls. The former is strategic.
Bush and Rubio are vying for the same moderately conservative voters. Bush in particular needs a strong showing in New Hampshire to remain viable.
Rubio himself has largely ignored Trump, because the populist businessman’s voters are unlikely to switch to him. Instead, he has gone after fellow senator Ted Cruz, calculating that getting some of his Christian right supporters will ultimately put him over the top.
So there’s nothing new or unusual here. Yet some of Marco Rubio’s supporters are positively outraged that Bush should wonder if a first-term senator with exactly zero legislative accomplishments to his name is ready to become president.
Politico reported last month that Republicans had been warning Bush against criticizing Rubio too harshly, worrying that it could only help Cruz or Trump in the primaries and Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in the general election (assuming Rubio wins the nomination, of course).
“This is something Jeb Bush has to decide. Does he want his legacy to be that he elected Donald Trump or Ted Cruz?” said Stuart Stevens, a strategist who ran Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012.
“The chances of those ads hurting Rubio are a lot stronger than the odds of them helping Jeb,” said Curt Anderson, a Republican strategist who ran Bobby Jindal’s campaign last year.
Jindal, the former Louisiana governor, has endorsed Rubio.
Mona Charen, another Rubio supporter, argues in National Review that by attacking Rubio, Bush is “attempting to sabotage the very best messenger the Republican Party has found in decades.”
In the same magazine, Ramesh Ponnuru takes issue with this sense of entitlement, teasing, “Perhaps Ted Cruz and the others should also drop out and we can dispense with actually requiring Rubio to win any primaries?”
If Rubio is as great a candidate as his supporters believe, Ponnuru adds, he should continue to do well. “I don’t see why some of his fans are acting as though it’s urgent to truncate this process.”
Maybe because they aren’t so sure Rubio is a great candidate after all? If they were, why would they care about a few critical advertisements being run in New Hampshire?
The rationale for Rubio’s candidacy — that he can unite the various wings of the Republican Party and draw in more Latino and young voters in a general election — is, as this website has argued, dubious and has little to do with his policies (which are actually far to the right). It has much more to do with his biography and the weaknesses of Cruz and Trump. He could probably defeat them both. But if Bush or another sensible Republican were to resurge in New Hampshire, Rubio would suddenly be in trouble.