The Florida family feud between Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio took a surprising turn on Thursday night when a tracker for a super PAC supporting the former governor tried to slip into an Iowa event for Rubio, whose staff quickly spotted and removed him.
The incident involving the Right to Rise super PAC stripped away another veneer of civility between the two friends-turned-campaign rivals, who have been slowly escalating their criticisms of one another.
“It was ill-spirited. Republicans shouldn’t be attacking other Republicans,” said Chris Mudd, who hosted the Cedar Falls Town Hall for Rubio at Mudd Advertising, where the tracker was seen and asked to leave about 6 p.m. local time…
“We had to go to Iowa to get Marco Rubio on camera because when we turn on C-SPAN 2 he’s nowhere to be seen on the Senate floor,” [Right to Rise spokesman Paul] Lindsay said.
“We’re close friends and I admire him greatly,” Mr. Bush said, praising Mr. Rubio’s family and allowing that it was “a little awkward” that they were seeking the same office.
Moments later, Mr. Bush was asked about his proposal to dock the pay of lawmakers who miss votes — which has been taken, in part, as a swipe at Mr. Rubio, who has frequently missed votes.
“Is his voting record a problem?” a reporter asked.
“I think if you had a dock in pay strategy, you’d probably get more attendance,” he said generally, as an aide signaled there would be no more questions.
Bush’s swipes are designed to highlight one of Rubio’s biggest vulnerabilities in the primary: Striking similarities to President Barack Obama, the GOP’s bête noire, in his biography, résumé, and generational message. Obama was elected to the White House at age 47, just four years after winning a U.S. Senate seat…
If not directly engaging with Bush, Rubio does have a honed response to the Obama critique, and his campaign message is laced with allusions to youth and energy that could work just as well against Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
“Barack Obama now has seven years of presidential experience and he’s still failing,” Rubio said on Friday. “I don’t think Barack Obama’s failures are because he was a senator. He has failed because his ideas don’t work.”
“Jeb has been criticized for not being aggressive enough,” one prominent Bush bundler told The Hill. “You’re going see a more aggressive Jeb Bush from here on out. … You’ll see him be more assertive and going after Rubio falls within that context.”…
“Jeb is easily the most prepared, so he needs to raise that issue. It’s easily the biggest difference between himself and Rubio,” one major Bush donor said. “It’s the biggest difference between any governor and senator. Governors have to make the decisions every day that prepare you to be commander in chief on day one.”…
“I don’t know if he’s desperate, but it’s starting to stink like he is,” said Peter Brown, a top Rubio donor in South Carolina. “He’s on the verge of becoming invisible in this race, and all of the sudden, look who he’s going after.”…
“Do you really want to boil it down to who the more tenured politician is in an election cycle when voters have shown no interest in government experience?” he asked.
Rubio’s youth and inexperience, says an unaffiliated Republican strategist, are “obvious and very real” challenges, all the more so since Republicans have spent the past seven years scorning a president with the same qualities. But, says the strategist, Rubio “has an ability to speak clearly to the anxieties of voters and to articulate an energetic vision for the future. . . . If anyone has the political skills to overcome those kinds of critiques, it’s Rubio.”
Rubio’s team declined to respond to Bush’s remarks, but a Rubio ally tells National Review they are the product of increasing desperation on Bush’s part. “He’s worried about the poll numbers, he’s worried about the donor reactions. I don’t know that throwing a little elbow at him is going to make any difference,” says the ally.
Bush and his team are shrugging their shoulders about what is clearly a pivotal moment in the campaign. The governor, says spokesman Tim Miller, “was asked about the differences between his experiences and Marco’s. That’s what happens in a campaign!”
Back before the current contest pitted their ambitions against each other, in 2012, Bush urged Mitt Romney to select Rubio as his vice presidential nominee, arguing that “He has more experience than Barack Obama had when he ran, more practical experience,” as well as the “intellectual acumen and the fortitude to be a good president.”
The two Florida friends — Bush was a mentor to Rubio when Bush was governor and Rubio rising in the legislature — knew a clash was coming when both chose to run for president. Now it’s here, and it has the potential to get ugly in a way that only fights between friends can…
[P]eople in Bush’s circle reject any suggestion that Bush cast the first stone. They point all the way back to April, and Rubio’s speech announcing his candidacy, when Rubio framed the race as “a generational choice about what kind of country we will be.”
“Our country has always been about the future,” Rubio said, and it can’t make progress “by going back to the leaders and ideas of the past.”
Political observers at the time saw Rubio’s remarks as a clever twofer, targeting both Hillary Clinton and Bush. The Bush team certainly got the message. Given that, if Bush is today asked a direct question contrasting his leadership skills with Rubio’s, he’ll say what he thinks. Marco’s a good guy, Bush now says; he followed my lead very nicely.
The central challenge for Rubio is getting past the Tea Party sentries. If RedState’s Erick Ericson is right (I’m partial to the theory) that it will eventually come down to a Cruz-Rubio fight, the party’s right wing will pound him for sundry offenses to their ideology – especially on immigration and his (general) get-along support of the suddenly reviled left-wing leadership of Mitch McConnell in the Senate. Even his strength on foreign policy has come under attack for perceived squishinesses – the Daily Caller recently criticized his backhanded support for “humanitarian” foreign aid and Breitbart has tweaked FOX for what they see as the network’s pro-Rubio bias.
But it’s hard to paint a guy with 92 percent voting record with arch-conservative Heritage Action as Lowell Weicker. And his tone is far more moderate than his actual voting record — which includes ‘no’ votes on DHS funding, same-sex marriage, Loretta Lynch for Attorney General, reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, measures pushing equal pay for women and, of course, funding for Planned Parenthood. He’s even come out against Common Core, putting him comfortably to the right of Bush.
The reason Jeb is still in this race is because establishment Republicans and moderate GOP voters haven’t yet found someone other than him to coalesce around. Scott Walker was a threat to Bush on this front until he revealed himself to be an inept and thoroughly unprepared presidential candidate. But ever since Walker’s exit from the race, Rubio’s numbers have been rising and he’s even surpassed Jeb in the polling averages. Right now Bush has to worry that donors, influential party figures and voters are going to decide that the young, charismatic Latino fellow is a stronger pony than the patrician gaffe machine with the politically radioactive surname…
[T]he contrast with Rubio plays to Jeb’s strength as an elected official who actually did things during his time in office. Rubio’s time in the Senate is best remembered for the comprehensive immigration legislation he worked doggedly to get passed and then abruptly abandoned when it became clear how much damage it could wreak on his political career. Since he’s started running for president, Rubio has all but abandoned his work in the Senate and is trying to convince people that while he may technically be a senator he’s not really “a senator.” Jeb, on the other hand, has made his record as governor (which he lies about quite often) the centerpiece of his campaign. The angry, anti-establishment voters who are currently powering the Trump and Carson campaigns may not care too much about Jeb’s record, but the crusty, pro-business Republican elites love to hear about all the taxes you cut and all the regulations you gutted.
What’s surprising is that Jeb is doing the anti-Rubio dirty work himself. One would think this would be precisely the sort of job that his super PAC would take on. When the Bush campaign got started, the assumption was that his super PAC, Right to Rise, would play an outsize role in helping along Jeb’s candidacy. Slinging mud at other candidates is one of the big reasons to have a super PAC – you can let them do the dirty work and argue with plausible deniability that the attacks are not the product of coordination. Who knows… maybe Jeb will keep the gloves on and keep calling his one-time ally a neophyte while Right to Rise explores some of the, ah … well-shaded aspects of Rubio’s political career.
Conservatives of all stripes have expended many breaths over the last six years complaining about how President Obama’s inexperience contributed to his lackluster performance on the job. But the reason many of them say this is because they do not like Barack Obama and his policies. They use that criticism because they use every available criticism. That Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio are doing so well right now—and Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham, Rick Santorum, and others aren’t—suggests that the GOP isn’t actually looking for Daddy to come along and clean up the kid’s mess. It’s a lot like how Democrats wailed about how unprepared for the task Jeb’s brother was when he sought the presidency, and then turned around and nominated Barack Obama to succeed him.
“Experience” and “proven leadership” haven’t been winners for a long while. Bill Clinton’s 1992 election over George H.W. Bush shattered its potency for good. Experience didn’t get Al Gore across the finish line in his bid against the second Bush. In 2008, Hillary Clinton and John McCain both pounded Obama on his inexperience; no one cared. Over a vetting process encapsulating some dozens of debates and a nearly two-year presidential campaign, Obama demonstrated to the American people that he had the requisite grasp of policy issues to match his strong set of political skills and qualify him for the job. Rubio, in his pitch to Republican primary voters, is doing the same.
The Bushes usually come into elections with stocked arsenals of vicious, often fabricated tricks awaiting deployment. It won’t be long until they’ll be dispatching hitmen, fingerprint-free, to spread rumors about how Marco Rubio has tons of secret anchor babies in his basement, or something. They might as well pivot to those now. The “inexperienced” attack is a loser.