That was wonderful.
The other day, conservative Republican talk-show host Hugh Hewitt was interviewed by MSNBC's Chris Matthews and speculated there would be an open convention when his guys (and gals) convene in Cleveland.
It was a bold prediction. With Marco Rubio- one of the GOP establishment's favorites along with Chris Christie and John Ellis Bush- on the rise after the Iowa caucuses, the media was ready to proclaim a second-round (and perhaps even a third-round) finish in New Hampshire by the Florida senator as clear evidence he was on his way to nomination.
Rubio had finished only third in Iowa, but with a nearly unparalleled ability to deliver a rehearsed stump speech and make it sound almost original, had succeeded in turning a concession speech after the caucuses into what sounded like a victory speech. And presently he had only John Kasich to present a viable challenge to a likely second place finish in New Hampshire behind only Donald Trump, a foul-mouthed authoritarian the Party's establishment prefers only to the uniquely unlikable and unliked Ted Cruz.
But there always was a chink or two in the Senator's armor. One has been that he appears fully as inexperienced as he is, the flip side of his youthful good looks. Additionally, there always has been suspicion that he is slow on his feet and cannot adjust quicky when thrown off his talking points. Following the previous GOP debate (after which I suggested that Donald Trump would melt down if he didn't come in first in Iowa, which does not appear to be occurring), I wrote
But there is Something, though. But he ignored the entire question because Marco Rubio is scared of Chris Christie, as have some Democratic, and many Republican, politicians in New Jersey have been so for a few years now. Yet, in a campaign in which fear of frontrunner Donald Trump has become a significant theme, no notice is taken that there is one major, viable candidate who has demonstrated that he wants to steer clear of the New Jersey governor.
Well, if Marco Rubio wasn't having nightmares of Chris Christie, he is now. Salon's Elias Isquith, who deserves a read if only for his spot-on evaluation of Ben Carson, summarized even before Saturday night's debate in New Hampshire ended
Things got started when Rubio was asked to respond to Christie’s allegation that, after experiencing the presidency of Barack Obama, who was elected as a first-term U.S. senator, it would be especially unfortunate if the Republican Party were itself to nominate Marco Rubio, a first term U.S. senator, for the White House. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” Christie had said (bettering his former benefactor, George).
Rubio’s comeback was pretty good, if a little obvious in its intent: He argued that experience was overrated; if it mattered, Vice President Joe Biden would be a good candidate for commander-in-chief. He then argued that an unspoken premise of the criticism — that Obama has failed in part due to his inexperience — is faulty. Obama knows exactly what he’s doing, Rubio said. The president is not a fool; he’s a menace.
Christie wasn’t having it, dismissing Rubio’s Biden straw man and recommitting to his initial attack. Rubio’s a nice guy, a smart guy, Christie said; but the simple fact is that he’s never had to make an important decision. This got a noticeable round of applause from the audience. And perhaps that’s why Rubio then proceeded to self-destruct.
What Rubio’s next five or so minutes such a disaster wasn’t really what he said — but the fact that he had already just said it. Looking mighty flummoxed, Rubio tried to parry Christie’s second attack by pivoting once again to Obama, hoping to bring the crowd around to his side by using generous helpings of ideological red meat to help their tribal identification overwhelm their intellect. It had already failed, but he was doing it again. Worse still, his second answer was almost a verbatim repeat of his first.
Remember: The knock on Rubio has always been, essentially, that he’s a lightweight. He’s young, pretty good-looking, and he exudes the kind of Kennedy-esque earnest, “idealistic” machismo that seems to send a thrill up the legs of the Republican Party’s aged voter base (as well the aging ranks of the elite political press). As they once said of that cherubic whippersnapper Al Gore, Rubio is an older person’s idea of a young person. There may not be much there there, in short.
Well, it’s hard to imagine anything Rubio could have possibly done that would more immediately, and humorously, affirm the caricature. Here he was, really being challenged for the first time — and by Christie, a world-class bully, no less — and he was wilting. He was like an artificially intelligent robot confronted with a logical question his programming couldn’t handle. I worried for a moment that my stream of the debate had begun to skip.
Whether due to incompetence or pity, the moderators tried to move on. But like a really big, mean, and sadistic shark, Christie was all over it. He mocked Rubio for falling back on his talking points — something all politicians do, but rarely so conspicuously — and continued to shred the senator’s (lack of a) record, as well as tout his own hands-on experience governing New Jersey.
Rubio tried to tu quoque Christie, noting that the governor had only grudgingly returned to the Garden State during a recent snowstorm. Christie all but rolled his eyes and laughed it off while the audience booed — at Rubio. And then, unbelievably, Rubio started to fall back into repeating the talking point (let’s not pretend Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing…) yet again. “There it is!” Christie interjected. The crowd was with him. Rubio’s emasculation was all but complete.
And, I swear to God, about 40 minutes later, he used the same line again.
And that's where John Kasich comes in. Questioned by NBC's Kasie Hunt in the "spin room," the Ohio Governor pointedly refused to make any predictions, but exuded confidence when he smiled broadly and remarked he had done "very well." Mark Halperin, a consummate Washington insider among reporters with his finger perpetually in the wind, surmised Kasich would come in second in New Hampshire. (Trump has long been expected to win.)
That is no small thing. Following Trump's victory in Iowa, the crew on Morning Joe, the insiders' insiders, asserted that the billionaire was the candidate of "joy." You had to see it to believe it- the candidate who made "you're fired" a buzz phrase, called out by name a disabled reporter, snarled about Megyn Kelly's "blood coming out of her wherever," and recently publicly swore promiscuously, had become the living embodiment of Ronald Reagan's sunny disposition, no doubt because he was leading the pack.
As of Monday morning, that candidate no longer will be Trump- or Rubio, as was once expected and really, really desired by many Republicans and the media.
Moreover, when correspondent Hunt suggested he is one of the Establishment candidates, Kasich- as he has been doing- asserted that there are not two, but three, lanes- the inside, the outside, and the Kasich.
It is campaign propaganda, but contains within it a shred or two of truth. Kasich is very conservative ("severely conservative," as Mitt Romney would put it) and would be acceptable to the donor class of the GOP. However, unlike Rubio, he is not the wonder boy, and Chris Christie or John Ells Bush also would do quite fine, thank you very much. The former House Budget Committee chairperson would pursue policies the 1% favor, but would not be quite the puppet Rubio or Bush would be, nor would he pursue them with the relentless vigor as would Christie.
This throws the GOP race into disarray, much as Hewitt thought, although for obvious reasonshe did not place it in those terms The Big Money Boyz currently have to hold off anointing Wonder Boy Rubio and must contemplate the possibility that John Kasich will be their only alternative to the barely tolerable Ted Cruz or the slightly better than barely tolerable Donad Trump. Thatmay not hold once the campaign turns south. For now, however, it portends a wide open race and in all its confusion and disappointment for the GOP powers, is surely a wondrous sight to behold.