Christie rips Rubio: A reliable conservative wouldn't have backed amnesty and then run away; Update: Rubio camp responds

A brutal counterattack after Rubio’s Super PAC dropped not one but two ads on him yesterday.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but: Second look at Chris Christie?

“I just don’t think Marco Rubio’s going to be able to slime his way to the White House,” Christie said. “He wants to put out a whole bunch of negative ads? Go ahead. I hope that he will acknowledge at some point that I couldn’t care less.”

Christie mocked Rubio as naive in the arts of political street-fighting — “He’s never been in a tough race in his life,” he said dismissively — and tore into Rubio’s work in the so-called Gang of Eight on a 2013 immigration bill that has since become anathema to conservatives.

“The guy who advocated for amnesty and then ran away when the topic got too hot tells you two things: He’s not a reliable conservative, A, and B, whenever it gets too hot, Marco turns tail and runs,” he said. “I’m not the least bit concerned that Marco Rubio will hurt me with conservatives. Marco Rubio has work himself to do with conservatives.”…

“If Marco thinks that by having his big donors from Madison Avenue put a few ads up in New Hampshire is going to shake me, that just again shows his inexperience and shows you what he’ll be like against Hillary Clinton,” he said. “If he’s overreacting to this — now — that just proves my point that he’s not ready to be the nominee.”

Dilemmas, dilemmas. Do I let Christie slide on this, given that I’ve soured a bit on Rubio lately? Or do I fact-check him, spoiling an otherwise highly enjoyable beating? Let’s fact-check him, as I need something to fill out this otherwise lame “smackdown!” post. Fact one: Of course Rubio’s been in a tough race before. In his 2010 Senate run in Florida, he started as a prohibitive underdog against a popular sitting governor who was backed by the GOP leadership. The fact that he not only went on to annihilate Charlie Crist but to drive him from the party doesn’t mean the race was easy, it means that a lot was working in Rubio’s favor on the trail — his own formidable retail skills, tea-party fee-vah on the right, and the sheer odiousness of Crist’s soulless careerist opportunism laying itself bare. All in all, it was an impressive win. Certainly more impressive than Christie riding post-Sandy unity in New Jersey to reelection over a token Democratic opponent.

Fact two: Since when does Chris Christie think taking money from fabulously rich New Yorkers is a bad thing? He’s not a fundraising juggernaut like Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz, but he’s got his fair share of billionaires kicking in. Until Bridgegate knocked him down in 2014, he was widely assumed to have the inside track for big bucks from Wall Street Republicans: Not only was he a tri-state area guy and a sitting governor, he was exactly the sort of moderate purplish GOPer that socially liberal New York “conservatives” prefer. In fact, when Christie was nearly drafted into the primaries to oppose Romney in 2012, it was members of the donor class who were his biggest fans. Christie knocking Rubio for making bank from NYC is like Jeb Bush knocking Hillary for having too many political connections. You wouldn’t be where you are if you weren’t just as guilty, bub.

Fact three: On the charge that Rubio isn’t a reliable conservative because he backed amnesty with the Gang of Eight, I award Christie zero Pinocchios. But it’s not completely true that Rubio “ran away.” Granted, he’s a “security first” guy now, not a comprehensivist. To this day, though, he backs a path to citizenship for illegals and has said so at presidential candidate forums. Unless I missed it, he’s never once claimed that comprehensive immigration reform was a bad idea and can never work. He says that the strategy can’t work right now, with Congress split the way it is and with an untrustworthy president like Obama in charge, but he hasn’t reversed course entirely — even though that would be the logical thing to do to reassure conservatives that he’s learned his lesson from the 2013 push. You can fault him for not changing his mind, of course, but then fault him for that, not for supposedly having run away. Arguably his whole problem with the right is that he hasn’t run nearly far enough. And by the way, where does Christie get off lecturing other Republicans about being soft on amnesty? I know we’re all supposed to pretend he’s an immigration hawk now, but he’s awfully late to the party. What makes him any more trustworthy on this issue than Rubio is?

But never mind all that. Although I continue to believe that Rubio is the center-right’s only hope against Trump and Cruz, there’s really no denying that a Trump/Cruz/Christie race would be a lot — a lot — more fun than a Trump/Cruz/Rubio race would. It would be nasty; it would be colorful; it would be pure spun blog gold. Dude, it could happen. Your call, New Hampshire. I’ll leave you with this from 2010, right around the same time Rubio was pretending to be a border hawk in the Florida Senate race. My, how things change in politics. Exit question: Did Marco Rubio really say to a New Hampshire audience that no one who’s ever run for president understands immigration better than he does? I realize that pols need to try to make their weaknesses into strengths, but that’s like Obama saying no one understands foreign policy better than he does. He is more practiced at it than most, but practice doesn’t always make perfect, eh?

Update: Rubio spokesman Alex Conant e-mails:

“It’s interesting that Gov. Christie would rather attack conservatives than defend his own record supporting common core, gun control and expanding Obamacare. If Christie was honestly ‘telling it like it is’, he would say there is nothing inaccurate about the new ads and stop attacking Marco.”

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David Strom 2:31 PM on June 04, 2023