Exhibit A: Marco Rubio
Since leaving the presidential race, Marco Rubio has basically been out of the national limelight. He’s been busy working on a number of issues in the Senate and hasn’t said too much about the ongoing primary process. Recently, though, Rubio has done a few interviews in which he was asked some questions about the presidential contest, and some of his answers have now attracted some less than positive attention from conservatives who (wisely, in my opinion) are opposed to Donald Trump. Last weekend, when I listened to two interviews Senator Rubio did with radio hosts in Florida, I will admit that a couple of things set off minor alarms in my mind. Overall, though, I think that Rubio’s comments may be being taken somewhat out of context, so, for what it’s worth, I’d like to offer my interpretation of the matter.
In the last couple of days, I have seen people taking particular exception to a quote from the conversation Rubio had on April 20 with Jimmy Cefalo of WIOD. In discussing the possibility of a contested convention, Rubio said that people suggesting that the nomination should not be kept from a candidate who had won lots of votes because this would be ignoring the will of the voters and might make many people upset would be making a valid argument, and that delegates might decide for those reasons to vote for the frontrunner. Concerned conservatives have pointed out that the type of mindset Rubio described is the sort of thing those still hoping Trump can be stopped are trying to fight against and keep from becoming widely accepted, especially with Trump and many in the media already basically declaring victory.
I can understand the concern, especially when that remark is distributed on its own. I would note, though, that Rubio did not say that he thought the aforementioned argument should prevail, and he did say that it would not be at all illegitimate for delegates to choose someone other than the candidate with the pre-convention lead. My take on the whole exchange is that the senator was actually arguing against all of the claims that Trump and others have been making of a rigged and unfair nomination process. Rubio pointed out that the rules have been around for a long time and were known to everyone, and that they include delegates becoming able to vote more and more freely for an eventual nominee if no candidate has a majority on the first ballots. To me, he was calling the argument that the person with the most support should get the nomination “valid” (containing actual circumstances that can reasonably be considered) in contrast to the invalid and false argument that the whole system is rigged and that cheating has been taking place to steal the nomination from Trump.
These impressions were reinforced by another conversation that Rubio had the next day with Drew Steele (beginning at the 10:18 mark), in which he made similar points but also specifically mentioned that other arguments for delegates to consider would involve selecting a nominee who can win and who represents foundational Republican values. He again stated that political parties are private organizations that can use any method they wish to choose their nominees and said that it would be up to the delegates to make the final decision if no one has won a delegate majority going into the convention. Now, as a longtime dedicated anti-Trumper, I would always prefer anyone discussing a contested convention to say that any such event should absolutely jump at the first opportunity to reject the unqualified billionaire, but serious public officials aren’t particularly likely to stray beyond just listing the possible outcomes that might take place this summer. In any case, I don’t think that it would be accurate or fair to assume Rubio is in the “Trump should be the nominee even without a majority” camp based just on these recent interviews. While he didn’t tell us which arguments he personally would find most persuasive or what choice he’d hope for the delegates to make, I would mention that the senator has a tendency to refer to counter-arguments even when he is advocating for a strongly held position. When discussing abortion-related issues, for example, he usually begins by mentioning that he sees competing “rights” (of women to control their bodies and those of the unborn to live) involved in the matter, before moving on to say that he comes down on the side of life and making whatever specific point addresses the matter at hand. I don’t know that this is always the best approach to making one’s case, especially as it could open the door to misinterpretation through selective quotation or other instances where others hear or read only part of what is said. However, I do think this willingness to acknowledge multiple views of a situation may be one of the reasons so many people have seen Rubio as a conservative who has the potential to have broader appeal than others to the general public, so it probably doesn’t make sense to hold it against him now.
I have definitely been discouraged by the increasing signs that we’ve seen lately that more and more Republican officials are getting used to and accepting the idea that Donald Trump is likely to be the party’s presidential nominee. In light of that, I did take note of a couple of other things Marco Rubio said in his interviews, wondering if they were further evidence of this trend. At one point, he mentioned wrapping up his campaign when he thought continuing would be “divisive” for the party. This is probably a minor thing, but (claimed) concern about dividing the party is often used these days by those urging dissenters to rally around the frontrunner, so the word did get my attention. Most notable was Rubio’s response to the media’s favorite question regarding whether he would support Trump should he get the nomination. He quickly and calmly stated that he’s always said he’d support the Republican nominee and added a list of reasons he believes Hillary Clinton would be a disaster as president. At a press conference in Florida on Friday (video is available on the Senator’s official Facebook page), he said that he wouldn’t be endorsing anyone in the primaries and again easily affirmed that he would support the Republican nominee, including in a contest between Trump and Clinton. These recent responses offer quite a contrast with the tone of the answers Senator Rubio gave to the nominee-supporting question in the last couple of weeks before he suspended his campaign. Back then, while he never actually said he wouldn’t support Trump as nominee, he seemed quite distressed by the prospect and said it was getting more and more difficult. At that time, he was also making the case that Trump was a “con man” attempting to gain Republican votes under false pretenses who posed a huge threat to the Party and the conservative movement -- themes Trump opponents like me were happy to (finally) hear from a candidate, but which seem to have largely faded into the background as the race has proceeded.
So... what has changed for Senator Rubio in the last few weeks? Has a little distance from the center of the contest given him the ability to look at things with less emotional intensity, and was that necessary to keep him from being driven crazy like some of us? Did some powerful Trump-neutral or Trump-friendly atmosphere permeate his thinking once he started spending more time on Capitol Hill? Were the arguments he made against Trump in March things he truly believed were important or just a campaign tactic, and, either way, did Trump’s continuing popularity make him (and others) conclude that they shouldn’t be pursued because they weren’t effective in influencing voters? Rubio has been trying to keep as many of his earned delegates as possible bound to him for the convention’s first ballot (which could help to keep the frontrunner under the majority level and make future ballots possible), and it has been reported that endorsing another candidate might cause him to lose control of those delegates. We can’t know how much this is affecting Rubio’s current actions and statements. Would he endorse someone otherwise? Does he think that, to be on the safe side, he can’t be against anyone either and should try to be as neutral as possible in his public comments? I certainly don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but I don’t think viewing every remark (or lack thereof) in a negative light is warranted at this point. After all, just a couple of weeks ago, Rubio told Mark Levin that he hoped a conservative would become the nominee and that, of those still actively running, only Ted Cruz fit that description, and he also said that he was pleased Donald Trump had not won in Wisconsin. By the way, I’ve also seen headlines suggesting that Rubio is “more impressed” with Trump now based on a comment the senator made at Friday’s press conference that Trump’s performance had improved lately. I thought that Rubio was merely referring to the larger percentages of the vote Trump received in the last few primaries rather than to an increase in Trump’s presidential skills, but I suppose there is room for interpretation. As someone who came to support Rubio’s campaign, I may be biased, but I’d still like to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that he’s resisting the pull of the Trump bandwagon as much as possible.
That being said, when one of the reporters asked Rubio on Friday if there was a chance he’d appear on a ticket, he said, “I don’t think so.” When he’s been asked this question before, to my knowledge he’s always definitively said that he wasn’t interested in being/ would not be Vice President, so I was a little surprised by this new response, especially since Ted Cruz has now already announced a potential running mate. Was Rubio just giving a more low-key denial where “don’t think so” really translates to “definitely not,” or was he leaving an allowance for some remote possibility of deadlocked convention delegates at some point asking him to serve at the top of the ticket? If he is giving even the slightest consideration to throwing in his lot with the uninformed New York loudmouth, I hope he dismisses the idea as soon as possible, because I can’t see any way that could possibly work out well for him. As for Republican politicians, etc. in general “supporting” Trump should he, horrifyingly, become the nominee, I can understand it if this will just mean that they decide Trump is preferable to Hillary Clinton and possibly share that belief (of which I’m not personally convinced) with the public. If, however, party support involves actually praising Trump and his “policies,” such as they are, especially if House and Senate candidates also will be expected to support them, how can the Trumpian takeover of the Republican party and the destruction of the things it has stood for lead to any kind of positive future for traditional Republicans?
Exhibit B: Ted Cruz
Meanwhile, turning back to the primary race itself, Senator Ted Cruz is in an extremely tough battle to try to attain the Republican nomination. Throughout his campaign, we’ve kept hearing various people say, either jokingly or in all seriousness, that “no one” likes Cruz or especially that he can’t get along with his colleagues in the Senate. Not surprisingly, then, there are also plenty of stories speculating that he is having or will have trouble winning over more voters because he isn’t likable, which I would imagine only serves to give this impression to more of the public before they even give Cruz much of a chance. Really, when we are talking about choosing someone to be the leader of our country and play an extremely important role in the world, should we be giving a whole lot of weight in our decision to who would win a popularity contest at the office or who has the most TV-friendly personality? Besides that, I think that the “unlikable” label is overdone and rather unfair in Ted Cruz’ case, and I’d like to say just a few things to voters and to Republican officials, past and present.
The latest egregious example of unhelpful comments from the GOP ranks came a few days ago when former Speaker of the House John Boehner referred to Ted Cruz (not for the first time) as “Lucifer in the flesh” and basically said that he was the worst person with whom Boehner had ever worked. Donald Trump, on the other hand, was a “texting buddy,” and Boehner would vote for him, but not Cruz, in a general election. I’ve thought in the past that Boehner has sometimes been treated unfairly by conservative commentators and activists, but his comments about Cruz are terrible and, to me, they should serve to make Boehner, not Cruz, look bad. And, in case anyone is actually entertaining the notion that Boehner’s description of Cruz could be correct, I’m sure that Lucifer would have had plenty of power to arrange many more primary wins for himself to easily secure the nomination.
More generally speaking, there may well have been reasons for some conflicts or hard feelings between Senator Cruz and other lawmakers, mainly based on disagreements about tactics and rhetoric to employ in legislative fights and battles with the White House, and perhaps Cruz would have been wise to have avoided upsetting his colleagues to the degree he apparently did. Any less-than perfect personal relationships, however, pale in importance in comparison with having a nominee or even a president who shares basic goals with most Republicans and is qualified for the office. It would be one thing for politicians to side with Cruz’ opponent on congeniality grounds if the frontrunner he was desperately trying to stop were another solid, prepared Republican. But it is highly irresponsible and petty for them to withhold support for Cruz or even give support to Donald Trump, who has demonstrated over and over again that he is not at all fit for the presidency. I find it especially bizarre that officeholders will maintain their grudges against Cruz while seemingly ignoring the fact that Trump has spent plenty of time in his campaign branding everyone in charge of the government (that includes you, Congress) as incompetent, stupid, and/or corrupt. To do the right thing, any serious Republican official should put aside any lack of warm and fuzzy feelings they may have toward Cruz and support him in the remaining primaries, because success for him there is the only hope left of avoiding a situation where the nominees of both major parties are essentially liberal Democrats.
As for the public, I would encourage each voter not to take all of the comments about Cruz’ lack of friends and likability at face value and to instead at least watch and listen to him a few times to form an independent opinion. First off, rest assured that the Senator does indeed have friends -- you won’t have to search too much to find testimonials from his colleague, Senator Mike Lee, or from Jay Nordlinger, who writes at National Review and other places. Cruz’ style of presenting speeches or debate answers might not be the most appealing to everyone, and he will not have been everyone’s first choice out of this year’s large field of candidates. I certainly don’t think, though, that there is anything about him that should prompt reasonable voters to disregard his superior qualifications as a presidential candidate and reject him on personality grounds, especially when his chief opponent is a rude, obnoxious, offensive bully. I think that voters who do take the time to watch Ted Cruz in some different settings, such as the extended televised “town halls” in which he has participated (in, for example, Wisconsin or New York) or even appearances on late-night talk shows, will have a more favorable view of Cruz than they would get from brief news clips and stories. Besides being an intelligent and accomplished lawyer and politician, Cruz is also a movie buff who has a sense of humor and is obviously wrapped around the little fingers of his two young daughters, and I think that Americans can feel just fine about voting to send a man like him to the White House.