By Cinzia Croce
Orange is the new black and bronze is the new gold — or so thought the Weekly Standard. Just three days ago, they were celebrating Marco Rubio’s second term as president and chuckling at anyone who “ever thought Donald Trump might have won the Republican nomination.” After Saturday’s GOP debate, it is a safe to assume that no one at Bill Kristol’s publication is celebrating or chuckling.
It is absolutely remarkable that a publication with such a long record of inflicting damage on the GOP still has any influence in conservative circles. The Weekly Standard was among the chief advocates for the Iraq War, which caused the Republican Party to lose control of Congress in 2006. It has also backed comprehensive immigration reform inclusive of a path to legalization for the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the country, an approach that is tearing the Republican coalition apart. And, lest we forget, Bill Kristol was instrumental in lifting Sarah Palin from the obscurity of the Alaskan tundra to the bright lights of the national political stage.
In some respects, the rationale for backing Rubio is the same as the rationale used to promote Palin: star power, political talent, biography and the desire to attract a key voting bloc. The Hockey Mom was supposed to help close the gender gap by drawing disaffected Hillary supporters; the bilingual son of Cuban immigrants will attract, we are told, Latino voters to the Republican Party. No consideration is given to experience, ability to govern, or accomplishments. McCain’s campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, subsequently admitted that they were aware that Palin was “manifestly unprepared” to be president should the need arise; but selected her anyway and the same is happening with Rubio.
Palin’s unpreparedness eventually was exposed during her interview with Katie Couric just like Rubio’s veneer came apart at the debate. The best analogy I have seen about Rubio’s performance is that of bad science fiction movie where the hero is revealed not to be human. To the horror of the neocon establishment, their perfectly groomed candidate faltered just days before he was poised to open a clear path to the GOP nomination. What makes Rubio’s disastrous performance baffling is that Chris Christie had telegraphed days ahead his plan to expose him as inexperienced, lacking accomplishments and scripted. When confronted by the Jersey brawler on the debate stage, the Great Latino Hope was reduced to repeating the same talking point, eerily delivered with the same inflection and bad grammar.
What makes candidates like Palin and Rubio possible is the GOP’s steadfast refusal to do the heavy lifting required to update their policy portfolio. This is partly due to a lack of intellectual muscle on the right and partly due to a political consulting class that still profits off the carcass of Ronald Reagan. After every defeat at the presidential level, the GOP orders autopsies which inevitably come to the same conclusion: the party needs better messaging and more appealing, diverse messengers. Rubio’s slogan calls for “A New American Century” but there is nothing new about his proposals, or as my colleague Alex Knepper describes as, “Putting an old, losing message in a young, brown person’s mouth…“.
It may be too late for Christie to capitalize on his superb debate performance; nevertheless, Republican voters owe him a great deal of gratitude for hitting the pause button on a potential Rubio nomination. This morning the wave of establishment endorsements that began after Iowa continued as Senator Deb Fisher of Nebraska announced her support for Rubio. It is now up to voters in New Hampshire, and Republican voters everywhere, to prevent the nomination of another manifestly unprepared candidate.