Rubio, Trump, and the food fight from hell

    Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio

    Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio

    It was refreshing last night to watch feisty Marco Rubio set fire to the hem of Donald Trump’s imperial toga.

    Granted, it might be too late to reverse the GOP’s willful degradation, given Trump’s tightening grip on the party’s sizeable idiocracy. Let’s face it, he’s probably duh people’s choice. As neoconservative Robert Kagan — a loyal Republican (until now) — wrote this week, Trump has tapped “the well-primed gusher of popular anger, xenophobia and, yes, bigotry that the party had already unleashed …. [He is] the party’s creation, its Frankenstein monster, brought to life by the party, fed by the party and now made strong enough to destroy its maker.”

    And, granted, Trump by dint of his temperament chews insults with gusto and spits them back at his attackers — in the debate last night, gesturing at Rubio on his right and Ted Cruz on his left, he said “This guy’s a choke artist and this guy’s a liar” — which means that his blind-faith followers will continue to view him as the authoritarian strongman of their fever dreams.

    But still. If Rubio is to have a prayer of rallying the shell-shocked party establishment at this desperate eleventh hour, with Super Tuesday’s contests on the front burner, he had to do what he did on that stage (with assists from Cruz). He had to make the case that Trump is a phony populist, that he’s no friend of the little guy, that, rather, he’s just a rich hypocritical jerk who tramples on the little guy.

    In essence, Rubio had loaded all his opposition research into a garbage can, and dumped it all on Donald’s vanilla head.

    Such as, “Here’s a guy who inherited $200 million. If he hadn’t inherited $200 million, you know where Donald Triump would be right now? Selling watches in Manhattan.”

    Such as, “He hired [200 illegal] workers from Poland. And he had to pay a million dollars or so in a judgment …. That’s a fact. People can look it up. I’m sure people are Googling it right now. Look it up: ‘Trump Polish workers.’ You’ll see a million dollars for hiring illegal workers on one of his projects.” (Actually, it appears that Trump settled the lawsuit for less than a million dollars.)

    Such as, “There are people who borrowed $36,000 to go to Trump University, and they’re suing now — $36,000 to go to a university that’s a fake school. And you know what they got? They got to take a picture with a cardboard cutout of Donald Trump.” (Yup, Trump is the target of numerous fraud claims. His weak comeback last night: “I won most of the lawsuits.”)

    Such as, “Donald, you’ve hired a significant number of people from other countries to take jobs that Americans could have filled. My mom and dad — my mom was a maid at a hotel, and instead of hiring an American like her, you have brought in over a thousand people from all over the world to fill those jobs instead.” (True that. The guy who claims he’s going to stiff foreigners by bringing jobs back to America has done the opposite in Palm Beach. It’s all here.)

    Such as, “He’s repeating himself. I see him repeat himself every night. He says five things: Everyone’s dumb; he’s gonna make America great again; we’re going to win, win win; he’s winning in the polls; and the lines around the state.” (The latter referred to Trump’s idea of replacing Obamacare with coverage competition across state lines.)

    Of course, the whole bloody affair was sickening to behold. The screaming, the ranting, the endlessly choleric crosstalk — it was arguably the worst betrayal (thus far) of Ronald Reagan’s once-popular commandment that no Republican shall speak ill of another. It was the food fight from hell. It was so raw, it made “Mad Max” look like “Downton Abbey.”

    It was so raw, it reminded me of an event I covered when I was a young columnist in Connecticut. The owner of trendy night spot had the bright idea of hiring women to wrestle in a vat of Jell-O. Sure enough, the place was packed every night. The women, clad in leotards, engaged in a lot of free-form flailing; gobs of the orange goo flew in all directions until it was pummeled into the consistency of borscht. A club regular said to me, “It’s fun to watch people make asses out of themselves, but it’s TTFW — too tacky for words.”

    You get the metaphor.

    After 10 Republican debates, we know the drill. These are spectacles geared for entertainment. These are sops to the lowest common denominator. These events keep the fact-checkers busy, but they labor in vain for credulous voters who are impervious to fact. (Trump said that America “has the highest taxes anywhere in the world,” when, in truth, if we measure tax revenue as a percentage of GDP, we weren’t even in the top 10 of industrialized nations last year. Trump also said he can’t release his tax returns because he’s being audited: “I can’t do it until the audit is finished, obviously.” Actually, he can do it — there’s no law preventing him — but he just doesn’t want to.)

    Anyway, the good news is that Rubio proved he has the stones to fight. This morning, he kept it up: “We are not going to turn over the conservative movement to a con artist.” The hitch is, he may have waited too long to seize the moment that may already have passed. He has yet to beat Trump anywhere, and the clock is ticking. Super Tuesday will render a crucial verdict on his future, and the future direction of his party.

    And wait, there’s more today: Chris Christie has endorsed Trump!

    A perfect marriage of the guy with four bankruptcies and the guy with nine credit downgrades. A bullies’ bully pulpit.

    I seem to remember, earlier this winter, that Christie was dissing Trump: “It’s all make-believe. If you think that (reality TV stardom) forms the experience to run a government as complicated as the United States government…”

    But that was weeks ago. It only takes a few seconds to sell your soul.

    In the words of Jennifer Rubin, the faithfully Republican columnist, “No matter how cynical one becomes about politics, it seems never to be enough. One hopes that with this irresponsible, soulless act, Christie’s career comes to an end.” How shocking it is, she laments, that “a man who claimed to be serious about public service, who ran on concrete policies and a serious national security platform and who seemed genuinely concerned about an unqualified person becoming president would embrace a know-nothing buffoon like Donald Trump.”

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    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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