“Was this the plan all along,” NBC’s Matt Lauer asks Marco Rubio, “to string together a substantive attack at the eleventh hour, to leave this fresh in the minds of voters on Super Tuesday?” Er … probably not, but it’s the strategy Rubio has left, and he’s now playing it to the hilt. In fact, the consensus winner of last night’s debate pulled the alphabet-broadcaster hat trick this morning to launch the last-hour offensive at the man dominating the polling for Tuesday’s primaries and caucuses:
Flip the channel to CBS, and Rubio has the same message for Norah O’Donnell and Charlie Rose. In this interview, Rubio attacked the media for “pumping up” Trump in order to stick Republicans with a candidate they know can be easily beaten by Hillary Clinton:
“A con artist is about to take over the Republican party and the conservative movement and we have to put a stop to it,” Rubio said early Friday.
He predicted that a Trump presidency would be “chaos,” blasting the New York businessman as “erratic” and “wholly unprepared to be president of the United States.”
“He refuses to answer questions in any specific public policy,” Rubio said. “He has no plans for health care, for example. They asked him about the debt, he claimed that he’s gonna cut the debt by cutting fraud and abuse. He didn’t get any follow-up or any press on that…We’re about to turn over the conservative movement to a person that has no ideas of any substance on the important issues.”
Rose pressed Rubio on why he changed his strategy, and Rubio acknowledged that he’s an underdog heading into the turn. He’d prefer not to attack other Republicans, Rubio said, but not at the expense of letting a “con artist” and an “unstable” man take control of the Republican Party, and potentially the codes for our nuclear weapons.
And to complete the hat trick, Rubio chatted with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America. Once again, Rubio stayed on message:
Sen. Marco Rubio said today he would have liked not to attack fellow GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump in Thursday night’s debate, but that he cannot allow the Republican Party to be led by a “con artist.”
“I would prefer not to get into this situation where we’re attacking one another,” he told George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America,” but the perception of Trump as an “invincible force” has persuaded him to change his strategy.
“In my whole life I’ve had to fight and I’m going to fight now, because there is no way that the party of Reagan and the conservative movement, I’m going to allow it to be taken over by a con artist,” he said.
This strategy isn’t aimed just at Donald Trump. He’s shrewdly trying to create a Trump vs Rubio narrative that excludes Ted Cruz and makes Rubio the only legitimate alternative to Trump. Trump actually spent the morning boosting that narrative, focusing his Twitter ire on Rubio. That ignores the fact, emphasized by Cruz yesterday, that Rubio has not yet beaten Trump anywhere, even if he has edged out Cruz in two of the four states for second place. All three talk show hosts press Rubio on that, and he insists that he’ll win Florida … but that’s two weeks away.
Still, Rubio’s playing the hand he has left as energetically as possible. The more focus falls on him, the better he may do in keeping things close enough on Tuesday to leave himself a path to the nomination if and when others drop out. Rubio and his allies are outspending everyone in the GOP for Tuesday, and if he keeps up the pugnacious approach, more donors will start to conclude that he’s the Obi-Wan to the looming Trump empire.