I know, I know: “Were they booing Trump for calling Rubio a clown or were they booing Rubio for being a clown?” I put the same question to MSNBC reporter Benjy Sarlin, who’s at the Values Voter Summit today. He thought they were booing Trump. So did conservative reporter Byron York of the Examiner. Sarlin makes a fair point: Watch the clip below and you’ll find only tepid applause for Trump’s big attack line on Rubio, his role in the Gang of Eight. You’d expect more from the crowd for that if the room was anti-Rubio. Rubio also seemed to get a nice ovation when he walked out for his own speech at the VVS this morning, which is no surprise. Apart from Ben Carson, no Republican candidate has as consistently high a favorable rating as he does. He’s well liked, even if he’s the first choice of only a small number of Republicans (so far).
Interestingly, Trump himself didn’t claim afterward that they were booing Rubio rather than him. He denied altogether that there were any boos because of course he did.
Trump literally going with the "Boo-urns" defense to @KatyTurNBC. "Those weren't boos, they were cheers," he says.
— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) September 25, 2015
Attacking Rubio on his immigration record is the obvious smart play, especially given Trump’s own brand as the border hawk to end all border hawks, but it’s strange that he’s not focused on that exclusively given its potency with conservative voters. Here’s what he told reporters when he was asked about Rubio before the event:
“I mean the guy doesn’t show up. He’s got the worst record in the entire United States Senate. And he’s obviously not a very hard worker,” Trump said in the hallways of the event, adding, “You know, when you get elected as a senator you have to show up and you have to be there and you have to vote and Rubio doesn’t vote.”
It’s true — through late July, Rubio was absent for more votes since declaring his candidacy than Cruz or Paul — but his campaign’s already cooked up a clever response to that, about how it goes to show that Rubio hasn’t gone native in Washington by hanging around D.C. all the time. Beyond that, though, this knock simply isn’t going to draw much blood compared to Rubio’s immigration record. By late 2007, Obama was missing nearly 80 percent of the Senate’s votes because he was too busy campaigning. How’d that work out for him in the primaries? Stick to hammering Rubio on amnesty and you’ll do fine. Grousing about how many votes he’s taken feels like small potatoes.
Here’s another easy jump shot that Trump didn’t quite convert:
The Republican presidential candidate who has been leading in nearly every poll had little to say about the decision by the most powerful Republican in Congress to quit.
“Well, it’s a big decision that he made, it’s a great decision,” said Donald J. Trump, interviewed as he descended a staircase in the Omni Shoreham. “I think so. I think it’s good for everybody. I think it’s time – he’s been there a long time. But I think it’s time.”
Mr. Trump then turned to his interviewer. “What do you think, what do you think?” he demanded.
Asked if Mr. Boehner, who was facing the prospect of being ousted by conservatives in his caucus, had been forced out, Mr. Trump said, “Well, could be.”
Ted Cruz knew exactly what conservatives wanted to hear today about Boehner’s resignation. Did Trump pass because parts of his base are more moderate than Cruz’s and he didn’t want to alienate them with any gloating? Or did he pass because he really didn’t know what to say?