Roger L. Simon

Rubio the Comeback Kid in South Carolina

To call a Republican the “Comeback Kid” when that moniker was applied to Bill Clinton is perhaps damning with strong praise, but that’s what happened with Marco Rubio coming back from his New Hampshire brain freeze with by far the best performance in Saturday’s South Carolina debate.

The fresh ghost of the great American jurist Antonin Scalia hovered over the debate, but it faded into the firmament quickly as Donald Trump did everything he could to act like a horse’s ass.  What was wrong with him — he had been doing so well lately?  I have been (generally) supportive of Trump and couldn’t care less about most of his insults or his use of profanity. But when he started to blame George W. Bush for 9/11, he went off into kookland and I thought my head would explode. Was I suddenly listening to Ron Paul?  Donald came off for the moment as a desperate, juvenile jerk. And for what reason? He’s ahead. Does he want to shoot himself in the foot?  It’s possible he has a real self-destructive streak. But then with Trump you never know what’s going to happen, which is basically the whole point — the apotheosis of politics as theatre.

The pundits said Ted Cruz had a decent night. I wasn’t so sure. Cruz is obviously an extremely smart guy, but someone who is constantly reminding us “Who do you trust?  Who do you trust?” makes me nervous. I think I’m at a car dealership.

Cruz is a movement conservative, but the specter of Nixon often haunts him, not Scalia.  For a debating champ with a supposedly stratospheric IQ, the Texas senator too frequently goes for the least common denominator, as if he thinks the public is genuinely dumb (maybe it is, but still…). For example, he attacks Trump on the Second Amendment, when it couldn’t be more obvious that no one on that stage would undercut gun rights.

Jeb was feisty but to me he will always be faux-feisty, as if his handlers had just watched a Rocky rerun or Creed and told him to go out there and go for the throat. He does, but somehow his heart isn’t in it.

It remained for Rubio to make the strongest defense of Bush’s brother against Trump’s attacks, when the Florida senator said he thanked God that George W., not Al Gore, was in the White House on 9/11. The applause was resounding, as it was after Rubio’s impassioned final speech. The camera at that point had moved over to Cruz, who clearly had the displeased expression of someone who just saw his victim get up off the mat.

Basically, this was Marco’s night.  (Kasich and Carson were, as usual, non-factors.) It’s hard for me to fathom why more Republicans don’t line up behind this guy.  He’s the best natural talent the GOP has had in decades.  But it’s been my observation that many people like to lose and even more they like to be angry. It’s kind of a security blanket.  Yes, I also know many think Rubio is going to betray them on immigration. I’ve heard it again and again. Frankly, I doubt it. But I doubt I can change anyone’s mind, because most of us go with our guts, even when we say we’re doing it for substantive reasons.  I am going with my gut.  You will go with yours.

More importantly, what was missing overall was any serious mention of the Republicans’ opponents. The Republican candidates are running against a likely criminal and a fuddy-duddy socialist who would blow our economy to smithereens. But there was barely a word about this from any of the candidates. Big mistake. They should be rehearsing now for the general election — show us who can win against their true adversaries and spend less time bashing each other. That gets boring fast.