When Marco Rubio ran for the Senate, I backed him in 2009. He was around three percent in the polls. I declared his candidacy a hill to die on. I’d do it all over again. I adore the guy.
Jim DeMint and the Senate Conservatives Fund followed. Soon other conservatives came on board. Republican leaders in Washington sent staff to prop up Charlie Crist. I encouraged a donor boycott of the NRSC. Crist became an independent. Marco Rubio won.
Along the way, Rubio committed very directly to me and to others that he was opposed to amnesty and would not get on board a comprehensive immigration plan like that which conservatives had rallied to defeat in the Bush Administration.
But then Marco Rubio went to Washington. As he staffed up he surrounded himself with people who had a vested interest in immigration reform. Pretty soon Marco Rubio was crossing the aisle to work with Chuck Schumer to do that which he had told so many of us he would not do. To his credit, he worked hard to bring along conservatives. But I bet now he regrets ever crossing the aisle.
On Tuesday night, both Rand Paul and Ted Cruz tied the immigration plan around Rubio’s neck like a millstone. It left a mark.
While Rubio was working with the Democrats to orchestrate an immigration plan, Ted Cruz was working to scuttle it. But contrary to what Cruz said Tuesday night, he too did favor a pathway for legalization of some illegal immigrants, though not necessarily citizenship. Cruz is arguing now about poison pills and procedural tricks, but it was not so back then.
Rubio says he tried to cut a deal and walked away when it went south and he learned his lesson. Cruz says he never did what he actually did and if he did do it, it was a legislative maneuver decided to do something not expressed at the time.
Both Rubio and Cruz have a fundamental flaw at the hearts of their campaigns. They are ambitious, young politicians. They have maneuvered and jockeyed for positions in ways to build coalitions and occasionally those maneuvers come back to haunt them by those who do not like them.
The pounding on Cruz from the Establishment is something they have waited to do with gusto. The pounding on Rubio from the conservative base is something they have waited to do with gusto. Both sides have wanted a pound of flesh from the other and now is their chance. It is politics.
The deeper reality is this.
Marco Rubio’s political flaw is that he has sometimes surrounded himself with people who had agendas greater than Rubio’s own. In office, that manifested itself with advisors who saw Rubio, the tea party candidate, as the guy who could advance their immigration agenda. Rubio was badly served.
It is coming back to bite him in the ass again with advisors who are unwilling to relinquish the war plans of 2003-era George Bush. They feel they lost their power because of a poor communicator in Bush and Rubio can vindicate them. So Libya and Syria were just causes as will every other play in the Middle East until they are proven right.
Their attacks on Cruz as an isolationist are hyperbolic and silly and none of them see that the Republican base, like with immigration, is not ready to go back in guns blazing to every Middle Eastern territory in the name of democracy for all. ISIS is one thing. Libyan and Syrian intervention are something else entirely. I am intentionally not using the word “neocon” here because it is too often used as a pejorative, but Rubio is certainly surrounded by the most aggressive interventionists on the right not named Lindsey Graham and is now advocating their policies in the same way he advocated immigration.
I think it is to his detriment.
With Cruz, I think it is the exact opposite. Rubio listens to too many people and Cruz listens to too few. He comes across as too clever by half, less likable and relatable than Rubio, and often times so polished as to seem slick. His constant need to talk over the moderators on Tuesday night rubbed even a lot of his supporters the wrong way. His sleight of hand on his own immigration position mentioned above seemed a career politician worthy deception. It caught up to him the very next day in a very awkward interview with Brett Baier on Fox News that Rubio supporters blasted out everywhere.
Cruz is surrounded by loyal foot soldiers out to stick it to the man, where the man is the Republican Establishment. Just as the Rubio team can get caught in an echo chamber, so too can the Cruz campaign. If the Cruz campaign did not see that unforced error coming Tuesday night — particularly when the vast majority of the right-of-center and centrist GOP opinion leaders and television personalities are out to get him — they need some new voices or reconsiderations.
But ultimately, Cruz’s stunt on Tuesday night came across as the guy who knows he is the smartest guy on stage and that often leaves a bad impression at a time Cruz needs to make every good impression possible.
In neither case is it fatal. As Chris Christie rises, Cruz stands a better and better chance of besting Rubio. But there are plenty of people like me who backed Rubio in 2010 who would do it all over again, even knowing what we know now. Cruz as a 100% Heritage Action rating and Rubio has a 93% Heritage Action rating. Arguing about how pure a conservative either Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio is, is like arguing over FL and IF diamond clarity.
Next week is Christmas. No one is going to remember this by next Saturday. The heart of the problem for both men is that they are young, ambitious politicians saying and doing the things they need to do to get elected. What Rubio’s supporters see as opportunistic of Cruz, they see as noble coalition building for Rubio and vice versa. What Cruz supporters see as pandering by Rubio, they see as truth telling by Cruz.
It’s politics. It is the quest for the Presidency. I don’t expect either man to be a saint. They are trying to win by looking as little like politicians as possibly while being politicians. Neither side will show the other grace for the same tactics used because there is an election coming up.
We’ll all get through this together. It’s just Sturm und Drang at least till March.