Professional athletes, once the leaders in trash talking opponents, may have to take notes from the new kids in the game. While I said before Thursday’s debate that the fight between Donald Trump and Marco Rubio would get ugly, I did not expect that it would sink so deep into the mud so soon, starting with Rubio’s aggressive performance at the debate itself where he tried to out-Trump Trump. It looks like Rubio’s technicians have reprogrammed him and flipped the switch into Attack mode.
While he may have taken Trump by surprise at the debate, that element is now gone and Trump has started firing back, with Chris Christie as his trusty sidekick. The level of exchanges is truly pathetic with Rubio trying to turn the tables on Trump by suggesting that he was the one repeating himself and sweating profusely at the debate and even suggesting that he may have wet his pants. Kevin Drum has clips of Rubio and Trump exchanging insults. Some Trump supporters are making even more bizarre allegations.
Yes, folks, we have entered the Trash Talk primaries. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog is getting some serious competition from Republican presidential candidates and will have to seriously up the level of his own insults to avoid being mistaken for just another candidate
But can Rubio beat Trump at trash talk? And will it work for him? Some supporters of a candidate love to hear their guy them tearing into opponents and there is no doubt that those people in the Stop Trump At Any Cost tent will cheer him on loudly. But others may find the sudden and drastic change in their candidate unsettling and a sign of desperation. It may not be a good thing if it goes against the image the candidate has carefully cultivated over the years.
Rubio has been so far trying to erase the impression that he is green and inexperienced by acting like a serious, fast-talking policy wonk. Just the morning of the debate, I heard an interview where Rubio was asked if he would go after Trump and he took the high road saying it was unseemly for Republican candidates to attack each other. And yet, less than twelve hours later, he was doing exactly that.
When Rubio talks trash, he can come seriously close to looking like a frat boy, especially since he grins so smugly at his own barbs. His technicians will need to make some tweaks in his software. Getting down and dirty can be fun for a while but once you go there, there is no going back. While it looks like Rubio has decided to, copy Trump’s entire persona and spout one insult after another, he is likely to stumble along the way.
Meanwhile Trump has spent his life honing his skills at bragging about himself and insulting others. Furthermore, his supporters know that he does this and expect it and like it. Here is Trump mocking Cruz after Nevada and he will have no trouble shifting his target to Rubio and raising the ante.
(This clip aired on February 24, 2016. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Nightly Show outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)
Will Rubio’s new strategy work? Can the student beat the master at his own game? Can dirty tricks be far behind? Already allegations have surfaced that someone cut some of the cables carrying the feed of the Christie endorsement of Trump.
Chris Wallace of Fox News tells Bill O’Reilly that the last debate was an embarrassment for the Republican party and he is not sure if this new strategy will work and wonders if it is too late.
The problem for Rubio and the GOP is that insults may be all they have left since, as Josh Marshall points out, their own ridiculous rhetoric has created a huge ‘hate and nonsense debt’ for them that has foreclosed serious challenges to Trump’s preposterous claims
This crystallized for me after the last GOP debate when Trump told Chris Cuomo in a post-debate interview that the IRS might be coming after him because he’s a “strong Christian.” Set aside for the moment how this unchurched libertine was able to rebrand himself as a “strong Christian.” What about the preposterous claim that he is being persecuted by the IRS because he is a devout member of the country’s dominant religion? Republicans simply aren’t in any position to criticize this ludicrous claim because they have spent years telling their voters that this sort of thing happens all the time – to Christians, conservatives, everyone the liberals at the IRS hates. And this, of course, is just one example of hate and nonsense debt coming due. Shift gears now and they’re “RINOs.”
If the trash talk ploy does not work on Tuesday and Trump wins nearly all the primaries, what is left for Rubio and the party establishment since they have pretty much thrown the kitchen sink at him? After all, there is a point beyond which trying to spin second and third place finishes as wins and promising to win the next one looks ridiculous.