The Republican primary race picture is getting a little clearer. There are really only three players in the game: Donald Trump (the insurgent who represents those who are angry and fed up with pretty much the whole world but are incoherent), Ted Cruz (the religious and anti-party establishment conservative), and Marco Rubio (the neoconservative and backup party establishment conservative), with Jeb Bush as an asterisk.
The steady decline of Jeb! to Jeb? to Jeb* has been one of the wonders of this campaign. He had all the qualities that usually lead to an easy win. He had massive name recognition, raised a ton of money right at the start, had the solid backing of the party establishment, and had won election twice as the governor of Florida, a crucial and large state. He must have thought that he would have a campaign where he was the presumptive winner like Mitt Romney in 2012, and his main task would be to swat away the occasional insurgent campaign of people like Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich. Instead, beginning in July, he went into a nosedive in the polls from which he never recovered leading to his current 4% average. His only hope is that all the other candidates will flame out spectacularly, a highly unlikely prospect.
The party establishment and the neoconservatives hate Trump because he does not completely toe the party line and takes stances that they strongly disagree with, such as that the US created a mess in the Middle East by invading countries, that the US should be allied with Russia in fighting ISIS and not create another failed state by toppling Assad, and calling for more even-handed treatment on the Israel-Palestine issue.
It is in this light that the current Cruz-Rubio fight must be viewed. If the fight is viewed as a three-way contest, they each want to be the beneficiary of a potential Trump collapse, though that currently looks like wishful thinking. Cruz is trying to position himself by sucking up to Trump so that Trump’s supporters will flock to him if Trump fades while at the same time attacking Rubio as a party stooge who will sell out conservatives. But in attacking Rubio at the last debate, he may have been too clever for his own good because it gave the party establishment, which hates him, a chance to stick a knife in him.
I have said before that Ted Cruz is someone who is a sophist who thinks that he is so clever that he can make lies sound truthful enough that people believe him. In the debate, he accused Marco Rubio of supporting ‘amnesty’ for undocumented immigrants, an explosive allegation for the xenophobic Republican base, and flatly denied Rubio’s rebuttal that Cruz himself had supported their legalization.
Bret Baier of Fox News, of all people, clearly showed Cruz to be lying. Under close questioning, Cruz got flustered and tried to filibuster his way out of it but his own prior words worked against him.
Cruz claims that he was running an elaborate plan to flush out those who supported amnesty, proposing an amendment that he felt would doom Rubio’s proposed legislation.
Today, Cruz argued that the “establishment” was responsible for the resurfacing of these quotes, in a mass blocking-and-tackling effort that stood to help Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Calling his rival a “wonderful communicator” who’s “well-liked in Washington,” he repeatedly accused him of dissembling about the immigration bill, and doing so because the Tuesday debate had finally drawn him out on the Gang of Eight.
“The Washington establishment went into full panic mode,” said Cruz. “The strategy they have tried to follow, pushed on every media outlet they can, is to spread lies and misinformation. So let’s have a moment of simple clarity. I oppose amnesty. I oppose citizenship. I oppose legalization for illegal aliens. I always have, and I always will. I challenge every Republican candidate to say the same thing, and if not, to stop making silly assertions that their records and my records are the same.”
More interesting is that although Rush Limbaugh has come to his defense, the attacks on Cruz on this issue have come from the party establishment, Fox News, and the conservative National Review who have been the ones who dug up old quotes that contradicted his debate statements and are harshly criticizing him.
No political figure is perfectly virtuous or ideologically pure. One difference between Cruz and Rubio is that Rubio has acknowledged his apostasy on the subject of immigration, and has changed his position. Cruz, by contrast, has changed positions, but claims perfect conservative rectitude no matter which side he’s on. Successful politicians think and act strategically, but when it looks like scheming, or outright dishonesty, it leaves a bad taste.
Cruz says that these attacks show that the party establishment is trying to sink his candidacy and push Rubio and this shows that Rubio the favorite of the hated party establishment. There is no question that the party establishment hates Cruz because of the way he has undermined them in pursuit of his own ambitions. Cruz will try and use their attacks on him to his own advantage, to embellish his anti-party establishment credentials and to take down Rubio and thus further advance his goals of persuading Trump’s supporters that he is more worthy of their support than Rubio.
Mind you, this skirmishing between Cruz and Rubio is between people who share a lot of common truly awful goals. This fight promises to be nasty because the worst fights are between those who are close to one another such as in families, because they know each other’s weaknesses so well and know which buttons to push.