Election 2020

4 Candidates Who Stabbed Rubio in the Back: An Ides of March Review

William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Stratfford upon Avon. (Express Newspapers via AP Images)

Marco Rubio was the Julius Caesar of the 2016 campaign. For months, other candidates saw him as the most effective debater, one of the strongest candidates for November, and a benchmark by which to judge their own success. When the candidate of hope and “a new American century” finally succumbed, it wasn’t just due to Donald Trump — it was a whole host of candidates who did him in.

Rubio targeted too wide an audience, earning him too many foes who each considered him competition for their “lane” of the Republican primary. Rubio was seen as establishment, Tea Party, social conservative, and even slightly libertarian. That made him the perfect punching bag for every other candidate.

Furthermore, as he picked up endorsements from leading Republicans in the last months of his campaign, Rubio seemed all but coronated as the “establishment” nominee — something as toxic to the Republican Party this cycle as being presented a crown by the Roman people was to the senators who decided to murder Julius Caesar.

Here is PJ Media’s list of Republican candidates who attacked Rubio, stabbing him in the back before he finally suspended his campaign on March 15, the same day Julius Caesar collapsed under the knives of his fellow Romans.

1. Jeb Bush

Donald Trump shakes hands with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush after the debate hosted by ABC News at St. Anselm College on Feb. 6, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Donald Trump shakes hands with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush after the debate hosted by ABC News at St. Anselm College on Feb. 6, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was the first to attack Rubio. George W. Bush’s brother saw Rubio as a threat early on, and spent heavily to derail his campaign. On Sunday, the Weekly Standard‘s Bill Kristol estimated that Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise, spent $25 million in attack ads against Rubio, while it only spent about $5 million attacking Trump. Kristol said that “if Rubio is going to lose on Tuesday,…part of it is because the Bush campaign dropped $20 million of negative ads on him in Florida.”

As Slate’s Jim Newell put it, “Jeb Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise–after burning through $40 million already–has made a $1.4 million buy in…Iowa? To go after Sen. Marco Rubio? Yes, the same Rubio who currently polls at a distant third in the first caucus state, one that no one (including Rubio) expects him to win.” Bush attacked Rubio for being too inexperienced, for his use of a charge card for personal expenses, and for switching his position on immigration.

Attacking Rubio only made sense because every campaign — besides Trump’s, of course — bought into the false idea of “lanes.” Instead of focusing fire on the front-runner, Bush and his unconnected PAC directed their ammunition on Rubio, the greatest threat in the “establishment” lane. There may be some truth to the idea that their bases overlapped, but it was a huge mistake to overlook the polls, despite the unreliability of polling. Had Bush’s campaign thrown its weight against The Donald, how different would 2016 have looked?

2. Chris Christie

(Rich Koele/Shutterstock.com)

(Rich Koele/Shutterstock.com)

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie also threw punches at the Florida senator, and his blows hit home. Christie attacked Rubio and Cruz as inexperienced time and time again, touting his experience as governor.

Most famously, Christie hit Rubio hard in one of the debates, saying that Washington elites attack using a “15-second speech” to demonize opponents and come out on top. Rubio played right into Christie’s attack, repeating himself three times with a stock quote: “Let’s dispel with this fiction that Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

Rubio’s point was a good one — that Obama’s lack of executive experience did not keep him from accomplishing his progressive goals in the presidency, so Rubio’s lack of executive experience should not disqualify him. Ironically, the style of the talking point mattered more than the substance of the argument, and Christie destroyed him in that debate.

3. Ted Cruz

(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Ted Cruz also brought out his dagger to stab Rubio, attacking him from the right. Immigration became a major issue, after Donald Trump advocated building a wall on the border. Cruz, who has consistently taken a hard-line stance against amnesty, and later joined Trump’s wall advocacy, seized this opportunity to differentiate between himself and Rubio.

Cruz even linked Rubio to Obama in an ad. On the issue of dealing with illegal immigrants in the United States, Cruz’s ad alleged that “Rubio got to Washington and and wrote the bill giving amnesty to illegals using Obama’s talking points.” Cruz also attacked Rubio in debates on the issue, painting himself as a committed conservative and Rubio as a compromiser.

On this particular issue, Rubio got hit with a catch-22. The 2012 “autopsy” from the Republican National Committee explaining why Mitt Romney lost to Barack Obama argued that the Republican platform was strong, and that altering only the position on immigration would propel the party to victory in the future. When Rubio took this advice to heart (or was led to act on it by party elites), his comprehensive plan failed, and the issue torpedoed his campaign during this election cycle.

Cruz arguably stabbed Rubio in the front, rather than the back. His attacks were almost always above board and issue-focused. His campaign may have spread the rumor that Rubio was dropping out of the race early — like they did for Ben Carson — but that has more to do with the staff themselves, than the Texas Senator.

4. Donald Trump

Billionaire businessman Donald J. Trump, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, makes remarks at a campaign rally on Caucus Day, February 1, 2016, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, USA. Photo by Dennis Van Tine/Sipa USA

Billionaire businessman Donald J. Trump, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, makes remarks at a campaign rally on Caucus Day, February 1, 2016, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, USA. Photo by Dennis Van Tine/Sipa USA

Where to begin? The Donald brought multiple knives to the stabbing. Trump followed Cruz’s lead on immigration, repeating over and over again that Rubio was “weak on immigration.” Trump characterized Rubio as a “lightweight,” echoing Christie’s and Bush’s hits on Rubio’s lack of executive experience and his comparative youth.

Trump also hit Rubio on the Florida senator’s height, calling him “little Marco.” In one particularly damning moment, Rubio seized on Trump’s longtime quarrel with Graydon Carter, the Vanity Fair editor,who questioned the size of Trump’s hands almost 25 years ago. The Donald had sent him pictures of his hands every year, to demonstrate the length of his fingers.

Rubio hit Trump on his obsessive self-image — a true weakness of The Donald — but the attack ended up seeming puerile, as Trump referred to the size of his manly endowment in a nationally televised debate. Anything connected with such a low point in the campaign must suffer derision, and so Rubio did.

Next Page: A Bonus — Rush Limbaugh

Bonus — Rush Limbaugh

Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh speaks during a secretive ceremony inducting him into the Hall of Famous Missourians on Monday, May 14, 2012, in the state Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo. (AP Photo/Julie Smith)

Rush Limbaugh (AP Photo/Julie Smith)

Conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh attacked Rubio as the “backup plan” of the “establishment.” “Here I am warning everybody against it. I’m not advocating it, and certainly not pushing it,” Limbaugh added. The radio giant has been consistent less in supporting candidates and more in his sustained anger against the Republican “establishment” and against political correctness. By connecting Rubio to the “establishment,” Limbaugh linked him to the ultimate enemy of both himself and his audience.

Limbaugh also defended Rubio as a “legitimate full-throated conservative,” but much of the damage had already been done.

Rubio tried to appeal to everyone, and he certainly seemed the most electable, but his base was broad and not deep. He failed to build voter loyalty, and also fell short on his ground operation. His cosmopolitan image may have been a mismatch for his conservative principles, and his campaign continually focused on a media strategy, even while Trump sucked all the air out of his opponents’ campaigns.

Ultimately, Rubio’s challengers plunged their daggers deep into him, finishing a campaign that had made critical mistakes on its own. Like Caesar, he was felled by his foes. But also like Caesar, he made his own mistakes, which led — almost inevitably — to his own destruction.