Open thread: The "everybody get Rubio" debate

9 p.m. ET on Fox Business. I was going to call this the “do or die” debate for Jeb, but that’s what I called the last one. And he did die — right before our very eyes, when that attack on Rubio for missing Senate votes blew up in his face. But somehow he lurches onward like the walking dead, immune from terrible polling, invulnerable to big donors defecting to Rubio. He exists in the race for two reasons now: (1) To entertain us with baby Hitler scenarios, (2) to destroy the little brother who wouldn’t wait his turn and is now on the verge of humiliating the Bush dynasty by supplanting Jeb as the consensus choice of the donor class. That’s why Jeb’s PAC is out to get him now, I’m convinced. Hypothetically, if Bush ruins Rubio, Rubio’s center-right fans will have no choice but to back Jeb as the last, best hope against Trump and Cruz. In reality, I think it’s mostly a kamikaze mission. It’s one thing for Bush to lose a nomination that’s supposed to be “his,” it’s another to lose it to the young usurper from his own backyard. That sort of insolence won’t be tolerated. That dynamic is why the thought of a massive Bush offensive against Rubio leaves such a bad taste in people’s mouths — not because it’s out of bounds to attack an opponent but because the move reeks of jealousy and resentment. A spoiled rich kid is never less appealing than when he’s throwing a tantrum.

And yet:

So let’s call this the “everybody get Rubio” debate instead. Jeb, the joyful tortoise turned bitchy snapping turtle, is going to try to get Rubio by attacking him as unelectable due to his no-exceptions preferences on banning abortion, a move that seems more insane every time I think about it. Unless Bush has some truly salacious dirt on Rubio, there’s virtually nothing he could hit him with that would make Rubio less electable next year than Bush himself already is. And attacking Rubio for being too stridently pro-life in hopes of turning Republican primary voters against him seems so nuts that you wonder if Jeb’s actually looking for an excuse to exit the race now. Plus, even if you’d convinced yourself that that’s the way to go against Rubio, why telegraph the attack by whispering to the Times about it knowing that Rubio will be prepared for it now? That’s the same mistake Bush made with the Senate-votes attack last month. Maybe this really is a kamikaze operation.

Meanwhile, as Jeb’s hitting him on that, Trump’s going to hit Rubio for being “sweaty” — why this bothers him so much I don’t know, but he mentions it all the time — and, more substantively, for being a weakling who sold out to Schumer and Obama on immigration. Rubio will be ready for that too, having already counterattacked Trump recently on amnesty. The X factor here is Cruz. Cruz has avoided taking any shots at other candidates so far but riding to Trump’s rescue when he goes after Rubio on the Gang of Eight would be a perfect opportunity for him. Not only would it ingratiate him to Trump fans, it would help push the perception mentioned by Cruz last week to Jake Tapper that Rubio’s in the “moderate” lane of the primaries whereas Cruz is in the “conservative” lane. Immigration is obviously the dividing line between those two. If Cruz believes, as many people do, that the race is destined to boil down to him and Rubio, now’s the time to start jockeying for position. I’m looking forward to hearing him explain tomorrow why he went after a guy with a 93 rating from Heritage Action but hasn’t felt the urge to say anything critical of mega-RINO Donald Trump yet.

Cruz has another reason to go hard at Rubio on immigration tonight. If he wants to establish himself as the premier populist outsider in the race, and if it’s true that immigration above all other issues is key to that populist cred (which I don’t think is true but lots of other border hawks do), he needs to do something about this:


The other conflict to watch for tonight is, of course, between Trump and Ben Carson, who are neck and neck in national polls now. (National polls of likely voters, that is. There’s a clear leader when you use a less exacting sample.) Trump’s gone all in on attacking Carson as unqualified because of his youthful temper; watch below to see what he told an audience in Illinois last night. Carson’s business manager, Armstrong Williams, meanwhile told CNN yesterday that Trump sounds desperate lately and that he should be nervous because he hasn’t figured out how to stop Carson’s surge yet. Carson’s going to complain tonight that the media scrutiny of his background this past week has been a fat load of nothing and is aimed at him because the left can’t stand a pious black Republican who won’t tolerate their political correctness. He’ll get a lot of applause for that. Does Trump dare take the media’s side against him under those circumstances?

Only one thing is certain, my friends: John Kasich will end up annoying everyone. Here’s your thread to comment.

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David Strom 5:21 PM on March 31, 2023