I share the widespread belief that Chris Christie wiped the floor with Marco Rubio last night -- and for that we may owe him a debt of gratitude. Rubio's struggles Saturday night could be the "Oops" moment that will haunt him forever -- and so the guy who was potentially the strongest general election candidate of the three Republican front-runners might struggle in New Hampshire and fade. That's good news.
(And here's a bonus: If that does happen, and if Donald Trump or Ted Cruz goes on to lose the general election this fall, Chris Christie will be, in the eyes of many members of the Republican Establishment, the man who cost the GOP two straight presidential elections, the first one by cozying up to Barack Obama after Sandy, then this one by going after Rubio. Yes, I know that the polls all favored Obama even before Sandy, but a lot of Republicans still believe, erroneously, that Romney had it in the bag until Sandy hit. Will the Establishment hate Christie for this? Look at how angry the insiders have been at Jeb Bush for pounding on Rubio all this time, in a doomed effort to save his own campaign. Christie's campaign is almost certainly doomed as well, and now hemight be blamed for tarnishing Golden Boy. Smooth move, Chris.)
Rubio's problem was the robotic repetition of a single talking point -- five times, as you can see in the clip at the end of this post, starting at 0:47. But what did Christie say to get Rubio wound up? What was his argument for himself and against Rubio? It was this:
“You see, everybody, I want the people at home to think about this,” he told the debate viewers. “This is what Washington, D.C., does. The drive-by shot at the beginning with incorrect and incomplete information, and then the memorized 25-second speech that is exactly what his advisers gave him. See, Marco, the thing is this: When you’re president of the United States, when you are a governor of a state, the memorized 30-second speech where you talk about how great America is doesn’t solve one problem for one person. They expect you to plow the snow. They expect you to get the schools open. And when the worst natural disaster in your state’s history hits you, they expect you to rebuild their state, which is what I’ve done. None of that stuff happens on the floor of the United State Senate.”
Christie put everything into this. It was well delivered. It left Rubio so rattled he repeated a talking point.
But what was Christie saying here? He was saying that being required to deal with strictly domestic problems makes him more qualified to be president that a U.S. senator, even though senators deal with foreign as well as domestic policy. He was saying that getting the streets plowed is all the job experience a potential president needs.
How is that significantly different from what was widely deemed to beScott Walker's big, possibly campaign-derailing gaffe a year ago?
In response to a question about how he would deal with global threats such as the one posed by ISIS, Walker drew from his personal experience.
"If I can take on a 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world," Walker said on the CPAC stage, after giving a longer answer about how he would handle ISIS if he were the president.
... Walker has faced bipartisan criticism for the comment...
National Review called that "Scott Walker's awful answer on ISIS." An NBC reporter asked whether it was "the first major blunder of the presidential race." But now, coming from Christie, it's a devastating attack.
What Rubio should have done was to summarize the complexities of, say, the war in Syria -- ISIS and Assad and Putin and the Kurds and Turkey and so on -- and than asked Christie, "And you think what qualifies you to take this on is that you know how to get six inches of snow plowed in Bayonne?"
But Rubio stuck with his talking point:
“But I would add this,” he said. “Let’s dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He is trying to change this country. He wants America to become more like the rest of the world...”
And then shortly afterward,
“Here’s the bottom line. This notion that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing is just not--”
“There it is!” Christie interjected. “There it is. The memorized 25-second speech. There it is, everybody.”
“That’s the reason why this campaign is so important,” Rubio protested. “Because I think this notion -- I think this is an important point. We have to understand what we’re going through here. We are not facing a president that doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows what he is doing.”
I don't understand why this was supposed to be effective at all, even said once. Rubio was being accused of having the same level of inexperience that Barack Obama had in 2008 -- an experience deficit that some Obama-haters think put this country in peril. Rubio countered by saying that Barack Obama wasn't an incapable naif, he was a highly capable nihilist deliberately and capably destroying America by design. Conclusion: And I'm just as qualified as the America-destroyer!
Really, Marco? That was your message? Vote for me because I'm just as qualified to be president as the guy we all think brought America to his knees?
In this context, Rubio shouldn't have even said that once.
(Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog)