Matthew Rozsa marvels at Marco Rubio’s unexpected, but well deserved, political humiliation.
I’m writing this before the final votes in New Hampshire have been cast, but I know one thing for certain – regardless of who wins, Marco Rubio will be a big loser.
Back in April, I predicted that Rubio’s flip-flopping on immigration reform would cost him the Republican presidential nomination. After his surprisingly strong showing at the Iowa caucus, I reevaluated that assessment. All Rubio would need to do, at that point, was avoid any serious mistakes and allow the Republican establishment to save their party from the travesties known as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
Then Chris Christie, the famously pugnacious governor of New Jersey, wandered back into the picture. In the process he upended my prediction, saved Trump’s campaign, and offered America one of the best moments of political debating in its recent history.
In case you need a quick recap: During the February 6th debate, Rubio was asked whether he felt that, as a one-term senator, he would have the skill sets necessary to be a good president. In the midst of his rambling reply, Rubio proclaimed “let’s dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. Barack Obama is undertaking a systematic effort to change this country, to make America more like the rest of the world.” This line wouldn’t have been particularly memorable except that, when Christie repeated the charge by attacking Rubio for lacking executive experience, Rubio again offered up the observation that “let’s dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He is trying to change this country. He wants America to become more like the rest of the world.”
You may have noticed that the second sentence I quoted was practically identical to the first. This is where Christie’s rebuttal needs to be picked apart, because it ranks as one of the finest in recent memory:
“I want the people at home to think about this. That’s what Washington, D.C. Does. The drive-by shot at the beginning with incorrect and incomplete information and then the memorized 25-second speech that is exactly what his advisers gave him.”
Say what you will about Christie – his bullying demeanor, his abuse of power, his opportunism – but this analysis of Rubio’s rhetoric was nothing short of brilliant. In a single deconstruction, Christie put his finger on exactly why so many Americans are disgusted with Washington. Regardless of the party labels they wear, career politicians have become so accustomed to winning votes through shallow partisanship that they no longer believe substance is even necessary. The problem isn’t that Rubio is unique in doing this, but merely that he was egregiously transparent about it.
Of course, this doesn’t make it any less astonishing that Rubio’s response included this sentence:
“This notion that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing is just not true. He knows exactly what he’s doing…”
Normally I don’t support rudeness, but I can’t blame Christie in the slightest for cutting Rubio off at that point by announcing, “There it is. There it is. The memorized 25-second speech. There it is, everybody.” If the GOP had scripted this moment to humiliate Rubio and make a larger point about the hollowness of modern American politics, they couldn’t have done a better job. Christie had offered an astute condemnation of why America’s discourse had become vapid and, within moments, Rubio proved his point.
Unfortunately, the Republican Party did not predetermine this moment (if nothing else, it’s unlikely they would have chosen the chronically unpopular Christie to be the winner in that exchange). Rubio was their last hope of reclaiming control of a party that has gone off the rails of extremism, mainly through the candidacy of the billionaire-turned-bigoted-blowhard Trump. If Rubio had simply held his own against Christie, the momentum he acquired after winning the Iowa caucus would have continued to rise, Trump’s standing in New Hampshire would have continued to fall, and Rubio would have either bested him or placed a very strong second. His coronation as the GOP’s golden boy, and their savior from the humiliation of having to nominate Trump (or, shudder, Cruz as a back up), would have been complete.
Instead, the single most brilliant moment of debating to occur in this political season transpired against exactly the wrong candidate, at least for the GOP’s political purposes. In the end, it seems likely that the political legacy of the Christie-Rubio exchange will be that of salvaging Trump’s campaign at the precise moment when it was about to go under, as well as foreclosing any possibility that Marco Antonio Rubio will become President of the United States in 2017.
Considering that he did this while exposing the very hypocrisies that have caused so many to turn against the Republican Party, though, there is a level of poetic justice here. We can at least take comfort in that.