Diary

Rubio to voters: "Are you not entertained?"

There’s a small part of me that’s ambivalent about the events of the past 18 hours in the GOP primary.  Am I happy that Rubio finally joined the fray against Donald Trump?  Of course.  But it’s becoming increasingly clear that Rubio is not only the last person to attack Trump, he’s also the first.

No, I haven’t forgotten Jeb Bush’s pearl-clutching gasps about how the Donald threatens to coarsen the fabric of public life.  Nor have I forgotten Cruz’s steadfast, but increasingly quixotic, attempts to unmask the New York values behind Trump’s conservative facade.

Those *should* have been legitimate attacks, and it *is* disappointing that they weren’t.

Like Bush, I don’t appreciate what Trump did to the tone of this race.  But maybe that says more about my personal history, growing up in Rockefeller Republican New England (I can’t deny it; it is what it is).  Jeb’s view (and mine) is decidedly minority.  Anyone who doesn’t recognize that Trump’s style is a feature, not a bug, isn’t paying attention.

Like Cruz, I’m appalled by the mountain of evidence that proves, not suggests, that Trump is no conservative.  A couple debates ago, I rejoiced when Cruz finally took the gloves off vs. Trump.  On the open thread, I commented that I’d been waiting for that moment for months.

Unfortunately, as the last several weeks have demonstrated, roughly 80% of the GOP primary electorate had NOT been waiting for that moment for months.  Only a small portion of that electorate actually gives a rip about conservative ideology.  In hindsight, Cruz’s strategy was doomed from the start.

Unlike Romney, Trump isn’t running around calling himself a “severe” conservative.  His supporters fall into two categories: non-ideological voters who haven’t the faintest idea what conservatism is, and angry voters who know what conservatism is, but couldn’t care less about it because it seems irrelevant.

That’s why Cruz’s strategy of late strikes me as being so quixotic.  He’s using valuable time on stage, and on air, hammering away at the point that Trump is not conservative.  It hasn’t moved the needle because it CAN’T move the needle.  Voters who really, really care about conservatism are already supporting Cruz, and there aren’t enough of them.  Most Trump voters aren’t hearing the message, and those who do hear it are reacting in the opposite way: cheering Trump for not being ideological.

Enter Rubio.

I’ll add the usual caveat that I’m inherently skeptical about claims of game-changing.  I think the odds are strongly stacked against anyone not named Trump.  But if anyone other than Trump is actually going to win this race, they’re going to owe a huge debt to Rubio.  Or they’re going to *be* Rubio.  One or the other.

I just filled my gas tank at a new Shell station – the kind with video monitors built into the pumps.  I saw the breaking news video loop about 1.5x, and the lead “story” both times was a montage of Rubio mocking Trump during the debate last night.

Was it “presidential?”  Who cares.  Rubio is breaking through in a way that has completely eluded everyone else who has taken on Donald Trump.

Is that a game-changer?  The odds are against it.  But at least it’s a change, and the unavoidable fact is that change is essential.  What other candidates are doing simply isn’t working.

Last night made something crystal clear.  The worst thing for a GOP presidential candidate *isn’t* to have New York values.  The worst thing is for them to be boring.