The dutiful Jeb Bush, whose entire candidacy seemed to be a reluctant act of class and family fealty, did the responsible thing again Saturday night and bowed out of the GOP race after his embarrassing fourth-place finish in South Carolina. Bush was understood to be clearing “the establishment lane” so that a strong candidate, presumably his protégé-turned-nemesis Senator Marco Rubio, could prevail. And indeed, within a few hours, Rubio had added a few establishment endorsements, including Nevada Senator Dean Heller, who’d backed Bush. Some donors are expected to follow.
But let’s be real: Now Rubio and Senator Ted Cruz are locked in a fierce battle for second place, as though they live on a planet where that’s how you win. Neither man has a prayer of finishing first—and neither bothers to say that he will—until the race reaches their home states: on March 1 for Cruz (Texas), March 15 (Florida) for Rubio. Cruz aside, the GOP establishment’s fantasy that Rubio can consolidate the party and beat Trump ignores one messy reality: Republican voters. And increasingly, the primary battle seems less like a race between Trump and Cruz, say, or Rubio and Ohio Governor John Kasich (who is fading, but hopes to win his home state of Ohio on March 8); it looks like a war between its donor base and its voter base.
I’ve written about this a little bit before, but it’s getting more obvious: What can possibly stop Trump? His ugliest attacks, whether on Mexicans, Muslims, Megyn Kelly, or John McCain, hurt him not at all. Nor do his unorthodox, populist, anti-GOP policy stands: Just this weekend he went on TV and came out for universal health coverage and defended Planned Parenthood. In the past he’s called for negotiating drug prices with pharmaceutical giants. He opposes cuts to Medicare and Social Security. He wants to raise taxes on the hedge-fund guys. Overall, he’s rejected the GOP’s austerity approach. I’m not sure that’s the biggest reason he’s killing it with the white working class, but it surely helps.
Of course his racism and nativism helps more, and that’s why Marco Rubio, the guy who helped write immigration reform and whose tax plan eliminates the capital gains tax entirely, is a ridiculous choice to stop Trump. Look, I like Rubio’s attempt to preach inclusion; but of course I would, I’m a Democrat. He sounded like he was running in the general election already when he joined South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and the state’s Senator Tim Scott on stage this weekend:
Just this afternoon, I was on stage receiving the endorsement of an Indian American governor from South Carolina, who has endorsed a Cuban American from Florida. And I was standing next to the African American Republican senator from South Carolina. That sounds pretty minority to me….We are the party of everyone. We are going to grow this party and take our message to everyone.
But I don’t see that being a winning message to win the nomination, given the base the GOP actually has. Rubio merely puts a “minority” face on donor-class austerity politics, when the GOP’s white working class voter base wants neither.