I understand that candidates have to differentiate themselves to win voters. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are both very conservative senators. Cruz has a 100% rating from Heritage Action for America, and Rubio’s rating is 94%.
Issues on which the two differ include ephemera like the “Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (H.R. 2146).” There’s not much there to get the base all lathered up. In fact, even bringing it up induces MEGO: My Eyes Glaze Over.
Cruz and Rubio differ in two substantial ways: background and style. They are within a hair’s width on policy, faith, and social conservatism. Cruz is chess club, debate, Southern Baptist, Princeton and Harvard. Rubio is football, tailgating, Roman Catholic, Florida Gators and University of Miami. Cruz married a political wonk with at least as much mental horsepower as he has. Rubio married a Miami Dolphins cheerleader.
Both Cruz and Rubio know how to have fun, but Rubio’s fun is likely more relatable to Joe Sixpack.
Cruz clerked for Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court William Rehnquist in 1996, while Rubio was working on Bob Dole’s presidential campaign. Cruz spent his career arguing cases before the Supreme Court while Rubio clawed his way up the legislative chain, first as a City Commissioner in West Miami, then a Florida legislator and eventual Florida Speaker of the House.
The difference in style is marked by Rubio’s willingness to craft deals and compromise versus Cruz’s adamantine adherence to what he believes is right.
But neither man is a liar.
Who told Marco Rubio to call Ted Cruz a liar? Who is he listening to?
With Rubio tied in national polls and gaining momentum in South Carolina, the attack appears to be working, but at what cost? I don’t mean a backlash against Rubio, although that’s a possibility. I mean a deeply personal cost. Rubio and Cruz are friends. They play for the same team. They believe in the same things. Their feud is causing friends to attack each other on social media over which candidate they support. It’s causing married couples to split votes (I know at least one couple who have split their vote between Cruz and Rubio).
I am guessing here, but being called a liar by Donald Trump isn’t costing Ted Cruz any sleep. In fact, he’s said that he laughs at Trump’s insults. I am also guessing here, but I believe that being called a liar by Marco Rubio leaves a mark somewhere in Ted Cruz’s psyche. It has to hurt, even though it’s “just politics.”
When Rubio hits the pillow at night, knowing that he’s engaging in a character assassination and kicking Cruz where it hurts, joining Donald Trump in savaging Cruz, he’s got to have some second thoughts. Rubio’s always been known for running a positive campaign, and now he’s not. There’s a cost to that, a hole-in-the-soul cost.
Rubio needs to re-evaluate his approach and decide how he wants to win. If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, Rubio needs to look at who his friends are. Clearly, Trump is not his friend, and Cruz is a friend. When you’re on the playground, and the bully on the block attacks your friend, do you join in to look cool, or do you defend your friend?
The only path for Rubio to win is for Trump to lose. Taking on Cruz while ignoring Trump is not the best advice, and whoever is advising Rubio to do it is not doing his candidate any favors.