Published on TheHill.com on February 23, 2016
Chris Christie has crashed, John Kasich is ghettoized, Scott Walker self-destructed and nobody bought the idea of Jeb Bush, and now all the king’s horses and all the king’s men — and Fox News — are trying to shove Marco Rubio down the throats of the Republican electorate.
But they’ll never make the sale.
The fundamental fault line that runs through the middle of the Republican and Democratic parties is that which separates the establishment from the true believers. And nothing is clearer than the fact that nobody will cross that line unless there is absolutely no other option.
The basic strategy of the hysterics about Donald Trump’s ascendance is to force an amalgamation of the alternatives into a Great White Hope who can take on The Donald. It’s thought that Trump can only win a plurality and not a majority. Based on that reasoning, those who oppose a Trump candidacy posit that all they have to do is to pick off the alternatives until there is only one remaining opponent to Trump. And they have decided that his name is Marco Rubio.
The defect in this thesis is that it ignores the fault line. Rand Paul voters didn’t go to Rubio, they went to Ted Cruz. Ben Carson supporters would do likewise.
And, should Rubio best Cruz and force his withdrawal, his votes would not go to the Florida senator. They would go right to Trump.
From the start of the race, Cruz has managed to cleave as closely to Trump as possible without merging identities. Even as they have drawn apart, his attacks on the businessman have focused on his lack of consistency in backing the conservative agenda. If the Texan were no longer in contention, his voters would flock to the more rough-hewn alternative of Trump and not the smooth establishment charm of Rubio.
Each senator, congressman or governor who lines up to support Rubio brings with him the kiss of death. They announce his fidelity to an agenda and style of accommodation that is precisely what the Republican rebels can’t stand. With each endorsement, he becomes less the Marco of the Tea Party and, instead, the Marco of the unpopular establishment politics of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell.
Rubio is fundamentally weak. He is buffeted by outside forces and tries to walk a fine line of consensus among them. He appears to waffle from one side to another, not only to deceive but also to keep his balance like a tightrope walker carrying a barbell.
The would-be kingmakers are relying on massive amounts of money to elect Rubio. And they rely on huge doses of propaganda every night from Fox News. But to the extent that they push Rubio, they are trying to make a sale that the GOP outsiders won’t buy. And to the extent that they try to knock Cruz, they are creating votes for Trump.
No matter how you slice and dice it, the Republican electorate is 2-to-1 against the party’s leadership. Whether they express their discontent by backing Trump or Cruz or Paul or Carson or Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum doesn’t really matter. The candidates are fungible. It is the posture of animosity to the deal-making and craven refusal to stand up to Barack Obama that they oppose.
Rubio can never span that divide.
The winner of this race for the GOP nomination will be either Trump or Cruz — and the party establishment better get used to it.
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