Rubio counters Trump: Blame Bill Clinton, not George W. Bush, for failing to prevent 9/11

Via BuzzFeed, skip to 6:15 for the key bit. This is how Republicans have addressed presidential culpability in pre-9/11 counterterror lapses for the past 14 years, and it has the added virtue this year of scoring a point on the Democratic nominee-in-waiting. She’ll be running on her natsec experience, as seen in such memorable triumphs as the Russian reset, the Libyan intervention, and, of course, Benghazi. Here’s Rubio adding 9/11 to the pile of Clinton “successes” even though, with Jeb Bush much closer to Rubio in the polls than either of them are to Trump, Rubio arguably would benefit politically more than Trump did by portraying the Bushes as weak on terror. He came to Dubya’s defense here because, I think, that’s just who he is — he’s a strong hawk, a Bush 43 admirer, and sufficiently in sync with Bush’s post-9/11 war on terror that he’d naturally be loath to punish Dubya as negligent before 9/11. Or maybe he’s just being shrewd about who his constituents are. With Rubio in the process of eclipsing Jeb and trying to consolidate Republican interventionists for the stretch run against Trump and/or Cruz, it would be highly foolish of him to alienate Bush donors and grassroots hawks by joining Trump in kneecapping Bush 43. For all of the hype surrounding Rubio as a new face for the GOP, one of his strongest appeals, especially among older Republicans, is how familiar and comfortable he seems. They’ve been voting for decades for men who speak glowingly about the American dream and promise a muscular Republican foreign policy to cure Democratic weakness. Laying 9/11 off entirely on Clinton instead of Bush slides neatly into that image for Rubio.

But even so, this is a small yet vivid reminder that the true candidate of change in the party is Trump. Not necessarily change for the better; you can pick any of his policy heresies (I’d start with his eminent-domain boosterism) and go from there about how President Trump might be a turn for the worse from conservative orthodoxy. But Peter Beinart’s right about this: “[I]t is precisely Trump’s refusal to be respectable that helps him spark debates that elites would rather avoid. And sometimes, those debates are important to have.” He’s the guy in the field who’s been moving the Overton window in various ways in the primary, not Rubio, even on an issue as boutique as pre-9/11 intelligence.