Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Free Advice for Marco (and worth every penny!)

Donald Trump is now 3-1 in the primary.  Ted Cruz is 1-3, Marco Rubio and John Kasich are 0-4.  AIn any normal year, we would now be down to a Trump/Cruz race. 

But 2016 is anything but normal. 

In fact, the GOP establishment is now putting all of its hope in the basket of someone who has not been able to crack 25% in any of the races so far.  (The rush of the former Bush supporters to Rubio has been the only predictable thing to happen in this election so far.)  What intrigues me most about the embrace of the GOP establishment of Marco Rubio, is whether he will now adapt to the new circumstances he is presented with and turn his guns on The Donald.  Will he start making the argument to voter, that not just “I am the most electable” (which is a bit hard to make, since, you know, he hasn’t actually won anything yet) but rather “He is not electable” (which at this point may be the only way to bring down The Donald).

For the most part Rubio has steered clear of The Donald.  There are some mild criticisms here and there, but nothing like what he has thrown at Cruz or Christie (when he was in the race).  I have 5 theories on why Rubio is keeping his powder dry against The Donald, and explanations as to why none of these will ultimately lead to a Rubio nomination.

1)            Trump voters are not Rubio voters

Rubio assumes that Trump voters aren’t going to vote for him anyway.  This is becoming something of a self-fulfilling prophesy as he becomes the establishment candidate.  But Trump is quickly reaching 50% (he got 45% in Nevada) and it is clear that voters who had been supporting other candidates are moving toward The Donald, at least in substantial enough numbers to keep his ceiling moving upward.  Trump is around 40% now, if Carson drops and Cruz drops, then The Donald will easily be over 50%.  Plus voters like to vote for WINNERS.   Hoping to pick up the other candidates voters when they drop out hasn’t happened yet, and there is no reason to think it will in the future.  

2)            He wants to be the sunny candidate

Rubio tries to project a positive, sunny disposition.  It may be because that is his personality; it may be because he believes that is what a Presidential candidate should be like; it could be because he doesn’t come across as serious when he is mean.   I don’t know the reason.  All I know is that the GOP electorate is angry.  And they just aren’t angry at Obama (though they are) or hate Clinton (though they do), they are also angry at all of Washington. They want someone who is angry too!  The Donald may not always make sense, but he is upset and angry at the status quo.  Morning in America doesn’t work if voters believe night will never end.

3)            He is relying on the GOP Establishment to take down The Donald

If he was hoping to have clean hands, it should be clear that he can’t now rely on The Establishment to take down The Donald.  Either they can’t or won’t, and maybe both.  Besides which, now that Marco is the Establishment candidate, he will get tarred anyway. Even more, it has to be a candidate that challenges him.  Super PACs run by The Establishment  are just background noise at this point.  If anything The Establishment is trying to make peace with a possible The Donald nomination, his reliance on them coming to the rescue is misplaced. 

4)            He doesn’t want to hurt his chances in 2020

Marco is a young man, and he thinks that he has a bright future ahead of him, that he doesn’t want to tarnish by being seen as too angry or mean by the voters.  But success in politics can be fleeting.  Ask President Chris Christie.  Who knows where the country will be in 2020?  Besides, do you want to be known as the person who lost to The Donald?  Especially if he leads to an electoral debacle in the fall?  Won’t voters be asking in 2020, why should we turn to you now when you couldn’t even beat that loser?

5)            He is scared of The Donald

Rubio’s poor NH debate performance showed why he is probably the wrong messenger to attack The Donald.   Although his debate performances (usually) win high praise from the pundits, he generally relies on the lines he uses in his stump speeches.  Attacking The Donald will open him up to attacks that take him outside this comfort zone.  He has not shown the ability to parry attacks, like Cruz, nor the nimbleness of a Christie to see the weak spots in an argument and pounce.   Rubio apparently doesn’t want to engage The Donald, but the failure to do so means he continues to grow.

Running for President is hard.  You have to get lucky and be smart.  But most of all you have to adapt.  So far Rubio hasn’t shown that he can adapt.  He is still running a version of his 3-2-1 strategy that he started the campaign with (even if it is now a 3-5-2-2 strategy).  It should be clear that by himself, The Donald will not self-destruct. He is truly Teflon.  But the best way to ruin Teflon is to scratch it up, and that can only come from the candidates themselves.   

It should also be clear that there is no reason for Cruz to drop out and that at best you are looking at a 40-30-30 split of the GOP votes.  Maybe this is enough to get to the convention with The Donald having gotten enough delegates to win.  But more likely, it means a nice speaking spot at the convention when voters start flocking to the winner.

If Rubio is going to have a shot, he needs to be less passive.  Attack The Donald; show that there is more than the pretty face and a nice background story as a reason for The Establishment support; demonstrate that you aren’t just the GOP Obama.  If he does that, he will have a punchers chance.  Not a good one, but still a chance.  Absent his adapting to the current circumstances, he can start thinking about whether he want to run for Governor of Florida in 2018, or just audition for his inevitable FOX News show.