Via BuzzFeed, do the usual rules apply here about not holding a former candidate to anything he said about an opponent during the heat of a campaign? We all know that candidates need to distinguish themselves from each other and that attacks are a tool to do that. No one would begrudge Rubio criticizing Trump’s tax plan, say, and then deciding to endorse him anyway during the general election. That’s politics.
But not all attacks are equal. From February:
“This is the most important government job on the planet. And we’re about to turn over the conservative movement to a person that has no ideas of any substance on the important issues,” Rubio said in an interview Friday on “CBS This Morning.”
“The nuclear codes of the United States — to an erratic individual — and the conservative movement — to someone who has spent a career sticking it to working people,” he added.
It’s politics to dump on your opponent’s tax plan. Insisting that your opponent can’t be trusted with the nuclear codes is something else. What you’re hearing in this clip, especially in the second half when he gamely recites some reasons for supporting Trump, is Rubio’s shift from the most ardent anti-Trumper in the GOP during the primaries to the most prominent anti-anti-Trumper now. Plenty of Republicans can rattle off reasons for preferring Trump to Hillary but he’s the only one I can think of who made the case emphatically before that Trump is an existential threat not just to conservatism but, insofar as he can’t be trusted with a nuclear arsenal, to America itself. That’s some flip-flop. And the fact that Rubio brushes it off by treating it more or less as politics as usual apart from the boilerplate about how his differences with Trump are well known is amazing. It’s actually, and ironically, a Trump-like move in that it exposes professional politics as insincere nonsense motivated purely by self-interest. Remember how Trump used to goof on Rubio and Jeb Bush for claiming that they’re buddies despite the animosity between them? They hate each other, Trump said! The emperors have no clothes. The buddy stuff is garbage political politesse. Now here’s Rubio with his own upside-down version of that. “Remember when I said Trump was a threat to the United States? Yeah, well, just more political garbage. Don’t take anything I say seriously. He’ll learn on the job.”
Rubio’s been giving answers like this consistently for the past few months but listen to him build out the case for Trump in the last few minutes below. I wonder if that’s a reaction to the beating Cruz has been taken for telling convention-goers to vote their conscience. Cruz made a high-stakes bet that Republicans will reward him down the road for conspicuously refusing to endorse Trump. Rubio, watching the backlash to Cruz, may now be calculating that there’s more advantage in 2020 to being a good soldier no matter how ridiculous it makes his earlier criticisms of Trump look. Or maybe this is just how Republican super-hawks have conditioned themselves to cope with Trump’s foreign policy. Tom Cotton, another super-hawk, gave a similar answer recently when asked if he’s worried about Trump as commander-in-chief. His views will change once he starts getting intelligence briefings, Cotton insisted, no doubt sweating profusely at his own uncertainty. Ah well. The fact that Rubio gave this interview this morning at almost exactly the same time Trump was pleading publicly with Vladimir Putin to publish more classified information feels almost like karma for Rubio’s acquiescence in Trumpmania. Can’t wait for the next interview.