Marco Rubio’s moment: Can he meld establishment cash, outsider appeal?

31 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Billionaire Investor Paul Singer Backs Marco Rubio.

Watching Jeb Bush beached amid the flotsam and offal of this week’s gruesome Republican debate on CNBC, looking less like a deer in the headlights than like some rubbery deep-sea creature out of its element, severely decompressed and struggling to breathe, I almost had an emotion. In a move that may be an early signal of a new establishment front-runner in the crowded Republican presidential field, billionaire investor Paul Singer has pledged his support to Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Jeb Bush’s arrival at a waterside sandwich shop in Portsmouth on Thursday was supposed to mark the beginning of his family’s return to the White House.By every measure, the Florida senator’s bid for the Republican nomination has grown more robust in October, boosted again by a strong showing in Wednesday night’s debate. I’m not claiming that the GOP frontrunner who never was merits our pity or compassion, and I don’t want to default to clichéd utterances about how Jeb! seems like a decent guy despite his disagreeable positions and sinister backers.

Singer, the 71-year-old founder of hedge fund Elliott Associates, is not only one of the Republican party’s largest individual donors but is also regarded as especially influential among wealthy Republicans—the kind of campaign backer who can spur others to follow him. On Wednesday night, Marco Rubio, the 44-year-old senator from Florida, was (by almost all accounts) the winner of the third Republican primary debate.

We too often fail to make a clear, persuasive case for a conservative approach to addressing America’s problems and taking advantage of America’s opportunities. Hoisted behind the platform where Bush would speak was a large sign that said: “Jeb can fix it.” But after an unsteady performance in Wednesday’s Republican debate, Bush found himself defending how he planned to fix not the nation but his floundering campaign, which just a few months ago had roared to life with a promise of “shock and awe”, through its combination of fundraising prowess and family fortune. “How do you think you did in the debate?” a reporter shouted as Bush pushed his way through the scrum of cameras and smartphones. Now, the Rubio camp is working hard to translate momentum from a well-received debate performance on Wednesday into a much-needed fundraising boost and expansion of his base of support, while the candidate barnstorms in Iowa over the weekend. “Senator Rubio has put himself in a position to organically pick up [former Florida governor Jeb] Bush voters, just like he put himself in a position to pick up [Wisconsin Governor Scott] Walker’s voters,” said Iowa state senator Rick Bertrand, a supporter of the Florida US senator. And just like that, everything changed: “The party of Boehner and Bush is now the party of Ryan & Rubio,” declared conservative opinion leader Bill Kristol on Twitter. His face steeled. “I did great.” Speaking to voters outside the sandwich shop, Bush appeared cowed – confounded by a primary race led by a jeering billionaire and a subdued former neurosurgeon. “I wish I could talk as well as some of the people on the stage, the big personalities on the stage,” the party’s former frontrunner lamented. “But I’m a doer.” After the event, Bush was again encircled by journalists and photographers, at the edge of the parking lot where he spoke.

Eager to pounce on Bush donors after an underwhelming debate performance by the one-time frontrunner, Senator Rubio’s super-political action committee advisers circulated a memo on Friday local time making the case that just four Republicans can win the nomination at this point: Senator Rubio, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, celebrity businessman Donald Trump and Texas US senator Ted Cruz. If he were such a good guy, maybe he’d have walked away from his family dynasty and the political party it has perverted and done something useful with his life.

With Mr Rubio surging, there is hope that Republicans can avoid the fate of either a Donald Trump nomination (which would set the party in the wrong direction for the future) or of a Jeb Bush nomination (which would make it impossible for Republicans to run as change agents running against a “dynasty”). One step back and he would have been in the water. “We have the most money,” he said about his campaign, which used his family’s network to amass a record-setting $103m in the first half of 2015. “We have the greatest organization. On Friday, billionaire hedge-fund manager and major Republican donor Paul Singer sent a letter to his network of donors announcing that he had decided to support Senator Rubio, the senator disclosed at an event in Iowa. During Wednesday’s debate, Mr Bush attacked Mr Rubio, his former Florida protégé, for missing votes in the senate – but the mentee would have none of it – unleashing a devastating counterattack, slapping Mr Bush down and dealing a harsh blow to his flailing campaign.

We’re doing fine.” This week, a two-hour drive away in Littleton, New Hampshire, Bush’s would-be challenger, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton was holding an economic roundtable at a high school. At a “young professionals” happy hour at a downtown sports bar, the 44-year-old Rubio told a rowdy group that he woke up that morning “still kind of wired” from the debate. Against that backdrop, I want to explain why I believe getting behind Senator Rubio, at this moment, is so important. “In a clear, coherent, disciplined way – on the debate stage, on the stump, and in interviews – Senator Rubio has been turning his campaign into a compelling argument for using conservative ideas to help America adapt and thrive in the 21st century.” Campaigning in Iowa, Rubio said: “When people buy into us, they buy into our agenda, and I’m glad that he has and it’ll help us with resources. A young man in the audience asked how she intended to end corruption when she and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, have been dogged by scandals from Whitewater to Benghazi and her use of a private email server.

We don’t have to like Jeb Bush, or agree with anything he has ever said or anything he will ever do, to see him as a doomed literary character blinded by pride and arrogance, abruptly forced to recognize (too late!) that the fate written in the stars for him is not the one he expected. But the most important reason conservatives should be rooting for Mr Rubio to replace Mr Bush as the candidate who is acceptable to the establishment wing of the party is that he offers generational change. Bush has been compared to Charlie Brown, after the second or third time Lucy offered him that football, and to Richie Rich the Poor Little Rich Boy, and in both cases the resemblance is striking. You might remember the stark contrast that occurred this past April, when Mr Rubio’s presidential announcement came the day after Hillary Clinton’s. “Just yesterday, we heard from a leader from yesterday who wants to take us back to yesterday, but I feel that this country has always been about tomorrow,” Mr Rubio declared. Clinton rose to respond. “I wish you’d go back and read the history of the 1990s,” she replied, “because clearly there were unfortunately a lot of partisans who thought that the best way to work with my husband’s administration was through attacks of all kinds, all of which washed out … And I advise you to go back and read my 11 hours of testimony [to the House Select Committee on Benghazi last week].

Rubio is steadily adding resources in each of the first four voting states, and the campaign just signed an office lease in South Carolina, the third state voting in the primaries early next year. On a more elevated level, since Republicans claim to know the Bible so well (except for that one guy who’s been too busy playing the role of Moneychanger in the Temple), Bush suggests the enfeebled and self-pitying Samson, at least as depicted in John Milton’s “Samson Agonistes,” after he’s had his hair cut off and his eyes gouged out. Mr Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants who speaks fluent Spanish, and Mr Ryan, whose father died when he was sixteen and received Social Security survivors’ benefits until he was eighteen, share more than just a compelling story and a youthful appearance.

Robert Brownell, an elected official in Polk County, Iowa, who is helping organise on Senator Rubio’s behalf, said he has “definitely noticed an uptick in interest — and confidence — in him,” and that was before this past week’s debate. His God-given strength has turned out to be an illusion, and the supposedly indomitable warrior finds himself “Blind among enemies, O worse than chains.” Milton’s chorus intones, “Thou art become (O worst imprisonment!)/ The Dungeon of thy self,” subjected “to th’unjust tribunals, under change of times,/ And condemnation of the ungrateful multitude.” Changing times and ungrateful multitudes are precisely Jeb’s problem. The former Florida governor came to the debate after briefing his top fundraisers on a strategy that hinges on overpowering Rubio, whom his campaign sees as his most dangerous competitor for the voters and donors who want to see a traditional nominee. Rick Christoffers, 60, attended a Rubio event in Sioux City on Friday, even though he objects to Senator Rubio’s positions on immigration and prefers other candidates.

As Frank Rich observed earlier this week in New York magazine, the would-be strongman of the GOP field apparently hadn’t noticed until now that this isn’t his father’s Republican Party anymore. Mr Ryan will be “a different kind of speaker [who is] devoted to public policy,” Cesar Conda, a former Rubio chief of staff who has been a friend to Mr Ryan for 25 years, told me this week. Rubio had a retort at the ready, pointing out that Bush hadn’t raised similar complaints about senators who’d missed votes to campaign in previous elections. Still, Mr Christoffers was impressed by him in the debate for the way he took on the son and the brother of presidents. “I like what he said to Bush. Enormous piles of money and the promise of “electability” – just enough primary-season red meat for the right-wing zealots, just enough so-called moderation to compete with Hillary Clinton in the swing states – were supposed to quiet the grumbling and smooth the path to victory, as they had for Mitt Romney and John McCain, not to mention Jeb’s supposedly dumber and less adroit big brother.

Both men could use their leadership perches, not just to corral votes, but also to sell a conservative philosophy to a more diverse 21st century audience. But in calls to more than 70,000 primary voters in Iowa, Bush’s campaign identified only 1,200 who said they would support him, according to a memo shown to Bush’s major donors in Houston this week and acquired in full by US News and World Report.

But other contenders — from Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton’s allies to Florida newspapers — have seized on that line of attack, and it is likely to persist. He kind of cut him down,” Mr Christoffers said. “Bush has had a silver spoon in his mouth.” Senator Rubio now can expect a more aggressive examination of his resumé. Among fundraisers it has proved invaluable but among voters, especially Republicans who blame his brother George W Bush for tarnishing the party’s brand, it is still toxic, Mayer said. If only, some of those guys are still telling themselves, we had gone with Rick Santorum last time. (Who is actually still running or has recently quit, but in either case no one noticed.) Or with Pat Buchanan, back in whatever-the-hell year that was!

The Rubio campaign raised more than $US1 million ($1.4m) following Wednesday’s debate, according to an aide, after collecting a little more than $US5m during the entire three months that ended in September. But it’s hard to look at this strong and diverse Republican bench, and not juxtapose it to the Democrats, whose party – now that Barack Obama is a lame duck – seems to be represented by a bunch of old white people, such as Hillary Clinton, 68, Bernie Sanders, the 74-year-old democratic socialist candidate, Vice President Joe Biden, 72, Nancy Pelosi, 75, and Harry Reid, 75. Until that point, Clinton’s campaign had struggled to shed the perception that it lacked momentum even though the former secretary of state maintained a firm grasp on the top spot in national polls. “I’m not running for my husband’s third term. Rubio has sketched out the basics of proposals on China, education and taxes among other issues; Saturday is the last day of his “31 Days of Policy.” But he’ll have to go deeper into detail as the race intensifies.

It’s hard enough for any political party to win three consecutive elections (which is what Democrats will have to do), but add on top of that the notion that a political party and a nation should decide to go — as popular conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt told CNN — “backwards to the future, not forward to the future with a young, dynamic Republican.” To be sure, Mrs Clinton will attempt to generate excitement by virtue of possibly being the first female president. Roughly 20 per cent of the $US4.6 he shelled out between July 1 and the end of September was spent on lodging, rent, consulting fees and events in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina. Donald Trump’s jibes about Bush’s “low-energy” campaign have hit home, in a way they haven’t quite with Ben Carson, because it’s so obvious the poor bastard’s heart isn’t in it.

This summer, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders began to gain traction with his brash style and criticism of what he calls “grotesque” levels of income inequality. Rubio supporters said interest in his campaign has risen in recent weeks, but he and his allies still don’t have enough money to match the Bush forces.

There will be attempts to cast these young men as Dan Quayle or Sarah Palin, but the key difference, of course, is that, when it came to their ability to play on a national stage, then-Senator Quayle and then-Governor Palin were selected, not elected. They’ll wake up and they’ll realize who the good candidate is, which is, of course, George Bush,” Barré said, before immediately correcting herself with an embarrassed laugh. I would love to believe that there’s something not just pathetic but noble about Jeb’s self-immolation, and that he’s either deliberately or unconsciously choosing to stage the Bush family’s Götterdämmerung on a grand scale. Marco Rubio, should he be the Republican nominee, will have the benefit of having spent years in the national spotlight, and having endured numerous primary debates.

Bush’s campaign, in its presentation last week to donors at a Houston gathering, noted 12 staffers in New Hampshire and another 25 spread among the other three early states. Campaign ads are to begin the week after Thanksgiving with plans to spend about $17 million through the early primary contests, according to information provided by Kantar Media’s CMAG advertising tracker.

As Rich notes, much of that history is recent, and stems from the four presidential campaigns waged by his father and his brother, in which Lee Atwater and Karl Rove (respectively) sought out and galvanized the most retrograde, most atavistic and most paranoid tendencies in the Republican voter base. For Democrats, who were hoping they would get to deal with old pols like John Boehner and Jeb Bush (or loose cannons like Donald Trump) the world just got a little bit scarier – just in time for Halloween.

During the past week, top Rubio advisers have been stepping up their pressure on many of Mr Bush’s biggest fundraisers to jump ship and join team Rubio, according to people familiar with those conversations. But the GOP overlords could only control or channel the zombie virus they had unleashed for so long, and at some point – we could argue about when exactly this happened – it invaded the Republican brain and took control of the organism. Matt K Lewis is a senior contributor at The Daily Caller website in Washington, DC and is author of the forthcoming book Too Dumb to Fail: How the GOP Betrayed the Reagan Revolution to Win Elections (and How It Can Reclaim Its Conservative Roots). At least one Rubio adviser has angered some Bush supporters by demanding they switch sides before the next debate, on November 10, these people said. What Jeb has failed to grasp, in his Samson-like blindness and self-imprisonment, is that today’s Republican Party bears almost no relationship to the reasonably coherent center-right pro-business party of Nixon and Eisenhower (and, for crying out loud, of Jacob Javits and Edward Brooke).

Paul Ryan was elected speaker of the US House of Representatives on Thursday, bringing to a close the period of intense Congressional infighting that followed John Boehner’s sudden resignation last month. Sometimes it strikes the old poses and murmurs the old catchphrases, but whenever it opens its mouth to speak, all you can hear is a horrible insect buzz.

Mr Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin and Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential nominee in 2012, assumed a role often called the second most powerful in Washington. But to understand the GOP’s internal contradictions, and the dangers posed by its rotting, shambling undead carcass, I suspect we need to reach even further back. But his ascension to the speakership comes with his own party embroiled in a civil war between its insurgent and establishment flanks, and with Congress continually reaching new depths of ineffectiveness and unpopularity. “Let’s be frank,” Mr Ryan said after Thursday’s vote on the floor of the Capitol. “The House is broken.

No other presidential candidate has benefited from so much advertising by a secret-money nonprofit, a potential liability with voters who have said in polls that they are tired of big donors and secret money flowing into elections. All the crazy stuff found in the 21st-century Republican Party – the racism and the anti-immigrant fervor and the hyper-patriotism and the mistrust of big cities and big government and the perverse idolatry of capitalism among the white working class – goes way back in American history.

We’re not solving problems, we’re adding to them.” Mr Ryan, who is just 45 and was often tipped as a future president, never sought the office of speaker, which typically marks the culmination of a long congressional career rather than a stepping stone to higher office. As historian James McPherson describes the pre-Civil War political climate in his magisterial “Battle Cry of Freedom,” all those ingredients were present. On a less savory level, the Whigs also had pronounced overtones of white Protestant nativism and anti-Catholic bigotry, as McPherson puts it, and reflected elite concerns that the newcomers flooding into America’s cities would change the nation’s fundamental Anglo-Saxon character. On the other side stood the Democratic Party molded by Andrew Jackson, which embraced the new arrivals from Catholic Europe and championed the cause of industrial workers and small farmers against the “bloodsuckers” and “parasites” of monopoly capitalism and the New York banks. Democrats stood with the “outsiders” who had been left behind by the Industrial Revolution, and angrily denounced the worsening economic inequality that left the top 5 percent of the white male population holding 53 percent of the wealth in 1860, while the bottom half held just 1 percent. (I know, right?

Dick novel, uncannily familiar yet totally off.) In most material respects, those Democrats were much further left than today’s attenuated, conflict-averse, Wall Street-friendly party. Yet as McPherson acridly observes, the Democrats’ “professed egalitarianism was for whites only”; they were viciously and overtly racist in the North, and vigorously supported slavery in the South. Chattel slavery is no more, but its legacy lingers on and the underlying cultural and political questions that divided the nation 150 years ago still plague us today.

Our problem now is that the Republican Party has managed to position itself on both sides of that ideological divide, as impossible as that sounds, while the Democrats do not clearly represent either. He thought he was running for president in the boring, hawkish, sanctimonious and innately cautious Republican Party of his parents and grandparents, the one favored by generations of bank vice presidents and hardware-store proprietors and Presbyterian ministers.

One might suggest – as even a number of non-insane Republicans have suggested — that a party so enthusiastically committed to all the most hateful and destructive tendencies in American politics, even when they overtly contradict each other, is a nonsensical and incoherent enterprise that’s doomed to fail. Liberals have been confidently forecasting Republican doomsday for decades now, while the reanimated GOP, stuffed with Kochian cash, has built an impregnable congressional majority, paralyzed the legislative process and pushed the national policy agenda ever further to the right.

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