Is Marco Rubio sure about that? The 2016 cycle appears ready to boil down to the question of whether the US electorate is an angry one. Rubio’s betting on no — and strategizing on it as well:
In his stump speech to fewer than 100 people in the northern part of the second presidential nominating contest, Rubio gently poked at the real estate tycoon who is towering over the Republican field in the polls, portraying Trump’s message as one of anger as opposed to the senator’s message of hope and opportunity.
“There’s another gentleman running for president whose slogan is Make America Great Again. And I understand what he’s trying to say. But I would remind him that America is great,” Rubio said. “Ask yourself this question: who would you trade places with? Would you rather be China? Would you rather be Brazil or India or anyone else for that matter? There’s no nation on earth I’d trade places with. The issue’s not that America isn’t great. The issue is that America has the chance to be greater. And we’re not fulfilling our potential.”
Well, perhaps that may be true by the time the primaries begin in early 2016, but the summer of 2015 suggests something different — and not just among Republicans. Bernie Sanders has become the Democrats’ Trump without even being a registered Democrat. The socialist rhetoric from which the Democratic establishment has mainly shied over the past few decades turns out to be a big hit this year. This cycle, at least in the early stages, reflects a rising populism in the country that spreads across the political spectrum, and populism definitely comes with an angry edge. At least, it does this year.
Nonetheless, Rubio’s so convinced of this that he’s demurring on battling Donald Trump, or anyone else. Trump took a shot at Rubio for not attacking Jeb Bush, which Rubio shrugged off. Instead, Rubio told reporters, he wants to focus on his own message and let voters decide for themselves:
Rubio brushed it off Wednesday when asked about it. “I’m running for president. I’m not running against anybody,” he said. “I’ll continue to talk about my message.”
That’s a smart move for Rubio, and for the other Republican candidates as well. Both Rand Paul and Jeb Bush have tried frontal attacks on Trump, which plays right into Trump’s confrontational strategy. Bush has plenty of resources to sustain himself even if his numbers drop, but Paul’s all but disappeared from view after attacking Trump in the debate. It’s akin to the film War Games — the only way to win is not to play. Rubio’s smart enough to figure that out.
That still leaves the question as to whether a Republican can survive in this field without giving vent to the obvious anger within the electorate. Rubio’s betting that a positive vision combined with a tremendous talent for communicating it will eclipse anger and retribution. That was true in 1980, and perhaps might be true now, but it’s no sure thing, either.