Marco Rubio has emerged from 15 Republican presidential primary contests with a single measly victory. It's about time for the establishment to find a new savior.
Lindsey Graham has some ideas about that.
After stating the obvious — there's no path for Rubio short of dirty deeds if he can't win his home state of Florida on March 15 — Graham let it rip on CBS last night. "You know, Ted Cruz is not my favorite by any means. I don't wish him ill […] but we may be in a position where we have to rally around Ted Cruz as the only way to stop Donald Trump, and I'm not so sure that would work."
Graham is not just testing the waters for a Cruz endorsement in his capacity as one of the beltway media's most beloved and entertaining regulars. He's doing it as a top-shelf surrogate for Jeb Bush — the candidate he endorsed after ending his own presidential campaign — and an unrepentant neoconservative. Even his hypothetical rush to Cruz's side is a body blow to Rubio.
No candidate in the race offers as clear and comprehensible a break from the Bush legacy on international relations as Ted Cruz. To be sure, Trump has praised Putin and raged — quite effectively — against the President Bush who blew big bucks on near-disaster in Iraq. On the other hand, Trump has completely ignored his one concrete campaign promise to release a list of foreign policy advisors. Who knows — Trump included — what he has in store? Instead, it is Ted Cruz on the Senate Armed Services Committee, with Graham and that other influential interventionist, John McCain, and Ted Cruz whose dose of foreign policy realism best embodies a studious evolution forward from Ronald Reagan's view of the best offense being a good defense.
If the likes of Graham, McCain, and Jeb Bush himself believe they can or must make room for Cruz on foreign affairs, that bespeaks a colossal evacuation of the established party's confidence in Rubio's fight against Trump. Rubio not only embodies the establishment's idea of the perfect Republican voter. He has also swallowed — hook, line, and sinker — an insecure version of neoconservatism, somehow convinced it is the baseline for mainstream Republican candidates. The neocon Jedi Council may have good reason to believe that Rubio is neither up to the task of securing the nomination nor of pursuing a rigorous and judicious brand of statecraft, even with help.
The world has been waiting for what I've referred to in the past as a defensive or austere application of fundamental neoconservative principles (freedom good, evildoers bad, politics ugly). Rubio's frantic phraseology — nothing matters if we're not safe! — doesn't rise to that challenge. Cruz, by contrast, could find a way to patiently restore the GOP's identity as the sane party on international affairs while steering Republicans away from the third Bush term at home that Rubio offers.
Without question, that's a far cry from Jeb's ideal. But shivving Rubio is still at the top of Bushworld's to-do list, and if they can achieve it to Trump's disadvantage without nuking the party, they can be heroes. Cruz peels away more Trump people than Rubio, after all. And though I wound up as wrong as anyone in suggesting early on that Cruz had the best path to the nomination, I was right to note he was poised to ace out Rubio big time.
That dynamic is still at work. Cruz's fundamental strength in this weirdest of seasons pierced the veil of confusion last night. He's the best bet to beat Trump, same as he ever was. And for Marco Rubio, that's a heavy albatross to drag home to Florida on primary night.