GOPocalypse, Part 2: The Upstart

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Dan Scotto

Dan Scotto lives and works in New Jersey. He has a master's degree in history, with a focus on the history of disease and the history of technology.

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  1. Avatar Kolohe
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    Yay, part two!

    We could call this “learning the lesson of Rick Perry,” who attacked Trump vociferously and got no benefit for doing so. But attacks might have worked out better if carried by the polished, telegenic Rubio, rather than the damaged Perry.

    An under-weighted factor (to me) that wound up shaping the whole race (in hindsight) was that wth Bush hoovering up most of the (so called) establishment money in the shadow primary, both Perry and Walker dropped out before a single vote was cast because they couldn’t sustain their cash flow. If either had either been able to siphon off some of that cash, or, more likely, just have been better at husbanding resources, one of them in the mix in the earliest contests may have had things break differently.Report

    • Avatar Dan Scotto in reply to Kolohe
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      Agreed! I talk about this (a bit) in part 3. As far as I can tell, Perry and Walker both set up BIG operations, and didn’t get the donor base to sustain them.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Dan Scotto
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        I thought Walker was the favorite choice of some of the more famous big donors like Adelson and the Kochs. Did they not push in their chips on him? Did they know something about him that the rest of us didn’t figure out until Iowa? (Namely that he’s an awful campaigner outside of his native Wisconsin?)Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Burt Likko
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          says:

          Walker made a fine moneytrap. Kochs and others threw money at him, for basically nothing.
          Same with Bush.
          There’s a reason my friend was on both of those campaigns (and that would be trolling).Report

        • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Burt Likko
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          I may be misremembering, but didn’t Walker largely blow his initial pile of cash on setting things up in states farther out on the schedule? Gambling that he could win Iowa on the basis of being from a next-door state? That’s not an unreasonable tactic — 2012 was full of examples of one of the not-Romneys doing well in a state, but not being able to exploit it in the next two or three states on the schedule.Report

        • Avatar Mo in reply to Burt Likko
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          says:

          IIRC, Walker had a big stash of Super PAC money, which he couldn’t touch, but didn’t have enough operational funds.Report

          • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Mo
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            says:

            It seems to me that Citizens United was the best Trojan Horse since, well, the Iliad. Lowering the stakes in the donor game (vice the no-limit table being played right now) makes the entire Republican Prez primary process a lot more orderly, both in 2012 and 2016. In an orderly process, there are no anti-Romney boomlets throughout early 2012, and for the current cycle, more impetus for better earlier organization, vice wasteful media buys.Report

  2. Avatar J_A
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    I don’t understand the Rubio love.

    Rubio was bringing only one thing to the table: a creative (for Republicans) vision of immigration and the concomitant ability to reach to Hispanic voters (*).

    When his only strength descended via escalator into becoming his biggest liability, Rubio ditched all that made him relevant, and, unable to fake being Religious Right (though he tried, but having been Mormon for a while didn’t help, plus you can’t outreligiousright Cruz) he laid all his chips in becoming super hawk. If Hillary was going to start WWIII, well he would do WWIII, WWIV and WWV for good measure.

    With more name recognition than Kasich (though it was name recognition for the wrong reasons, as a Gang of Eight traitor), and hungrier than Jeb! for the job (**), the candidate-of-the-party-elites mantle fell on him by default, just by not being Trump or Cruz. But he didn’t have the track, the ideas, the grassroots support, or the theme, to get anywhere.

    If Rubio ever becomes relevant again, it will be when he discovers that he was wrong when he said he was wrong about Immigration reform, and finally plays to his only strength. But, if he doesn’t hurry, an anyone-not-of-Cuban-origin-but-nevertheless-speaking-Spanish-at-home-American candidate will be carrying that mantle.

    (*) though political pundits that do not understand the difference between a Cuban-American and an Anyone-not-of-Cuban-origin-but-nevertheless-speaking-Spanish-at-home-American will never understand Hispanic politics.

    (**) I’m double super duper sure Jeb didn’t want to run, and was ganged into it by a lot of people, starting with his mum. During the Obama years he had made zero effort to remain relevant in the political conversation, and as soon as it was decent for him to bow out, he did, and, besides a couple of proforma #NeverTrump declarations, returned to whatever misterious non-political thing he did the previous ten years.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to J_A
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      He has other strengths: he’s young and energetic, he’s good-looking, hails from Florida, not particularly corrupt (other than his connections to Big Sugar).

      He has another weakness: Dan Quayle Disease (appearing uncertain and lost on the big stage). A milder strain of it than the namesake, but still, it’s there. Never quite seemed comfortable, and it made him look unready.

      His personal finances are not impressive by political standards, but frankly, they make him look like an ordinary upper-middle-class person in my mind, which would have played ultimately to his political advantage because compare that to the wealth of the Clinton family. It would have left him more “relatable.”

      In the alternative timeline described at the end of the OP, we’d be comparing Hillary Clinton’s experience balanced against such visage of corruption and mendacity as would have played out, versus Rubio’s youth and energy balanced against his apparent unreadiness — against a backdrop of fundamentals that, on balance, would seem to favor a Republican. I’d call it advantage: Rubio, but not by much, with the outcome very much in doubt at this point.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Burt Likko
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        says:

        Rubio is hella corrupt. Miami’s his powerbase, and that’s not a pretty powerbase.Report

      • Avatar J_A in reply to Burt Likko
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        says:

        A Rubio-Clinton competition in the General would be a different thing. Rubio was closer than either Trump or Cruz to the famous Generic Republican that always trounces his Democratic competitors. And, in the General, he would have remembered that he was for Immigration Reform, before being against it.

        But there’s a reason why Generic Republican never gets to the General. Because the base won’t vote for him in the primaries. Romney became the candidate by outrunning the base’s favorite, Notromney, not because the primary voters really wanted him.

        Was it possible that Rubio would have outlasted Notrubio? Perhaps, but he started at a worse place that Romney. Gang of Eight was worse than Romneycare, Rubio’s conservative Christian credentials were a mixture of Catholicism and -gulp- having been a Mormon (double apostasy into two fake religions, as per Cruz’s followers), and his track record in government and the private sector was far less impressive. In a more polarized election than 2012, with a base riled by the idea that McCain and Romney lost because they were not Conservative enough, General Republican Rubio, everybody’s second choice, wasn’t in a good place.Report

  3. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    A South Carolina victory for Rubio would have changed the entire race, and, indeed, was possible: Rubio, Kasich, and Bush combined for 37.9 percent in South Carolina, a full 5 points ahead of Trump. A Rubio win in South Carolina could have flipped the script, could have allowed Rubio to pull in some of the bandwagon voters that ended up with Trump.

    This seems like too much of a hypothetical and wishthinking. The field was too crowded and Rubio was considered a light-weight from day one and a non-entity who got where he his through pure luck. In some ways, he was considered more of an intellectual lightweight than Trump because of his spectacularly unimpressive GPAs in school.Report

  4. Avatar LeeEsq
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    I’m going to third J A and Saul. The only way Rubio had a chance to be the Republican nominee was if the field was much less crowded and everybody latched on to him early on because they thought he could be the Republican Obama and bring people of color and young people back into the Republican fold. It turned out that much of the GOP electorate did not want a Republican Obama at all, so those selling points mattered nothing to the people selecting the GOP Presidential candidate. It also turned out that besides these selling points, Rubio had little to offer the Republican electorate and like Burt noted could not articulate anything that well.

    This series is reminding me of Nate Silver’s polling data from the Republican primary season. Everything indicated that Trump was going to be the nominee because that is what a plurality of the Republican electorate wanted and none of the other candidates had enough strength to beat Trump. They weren’t going to sacrifice themselves and their chance either. Nate Silver and other people ignored this. Nate Silver was bullish on Rubio but latter admitted that there was a lot of magic underpants thinking when it came to this choice.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to LeeEsq
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      If you assume that Trump cares what people thinks and will drop out when embarrassed, then it’s easy to conclude that he’ll disappear early.

      Unfortunately, that assumption was wrong.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to DensityDuck
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        I think Nate Silver also assumed that the anti-force GOP would sooner or latter coalesce around an acceptable candidate but a lot of the “it can’t be Trump” was based on the idea that Trump would say something so outrageous, he would have to back down. They forgot that people like Trump believe that the outrageous things they say are true and they are prophets.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to LeeEsq
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          Yeah. They tried. It was Rubio.
          That wasn’t the problem.
          The problem was that they were incompetent.

          My friend (who actually is competent, if often trolling) started laughing when half the JEB! folks jumped to Rubio. He said that wasn’t going to work.Report

    • Avatar scott the mediocre in reply to LeeEsq
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      Not only was His Trumpiness the choice of a pretty clear plurality of actual Rep primary voters, but in one survey at least (covering two weeks before and after Iowa, likely primary voters + caucus goers nationwide, normalized by total delegates at stake per state), Trump won all the pairwise matchups (Condorcet winner), with only Cruz coming close.

      Dunno if that would have continued to be the case in some alternate universe where there was somebody acceptable to both base and donor class still in the running through multiple primaries who was willing to take Trump on a bit (let’s say JEB! stays out, enough cash goes to Walker that he can stay in?). I suspect it would (i.e. odds favored Trump unless somebody could organize their oppo well enough and early enough to start him melting down).Report

  5. Avatar Chip Daniels
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    I’m having a hard time imagining the Trump base becoming enthusiastic about Rubio, or Walker, or Jeb or really anybody who couldn’t toss out the red meat.

    When I look at the arc of GWB- McCain-Romney I see the base driving the candidates further and further into the swamp.
    They tolerated GWB’s flirtation with immigration, and shrugged politely at McCain and Romney’s Chamber of Commerce conservatism, but as is obvious now, they were only being tolerant of the Wall Street wing of the party.

    Trump is giving them the real stuff, uncut by the filler of taxes and neocon adventures.

    I can’t see them going back to lite beer after this.Report

  6. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    Isn’t it kind of late to be carrying water for Rubio?Report

  7. Avatar Richard Hershberger
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    says:

    In addition to what the others have said, this all ties in with the weakness of the Republican Establishment that resulted in Nominee Trump. Given that Trump never won an actual majority, a unified NotTrump faction, presumably the Establishment, would have won.

    But this presumes both that the Establishment could unify around one guy, and that the NotTrump faction was indeed the same as the Establishment faction, or at least that the non-Establishment portion would be willing to go along. Neither proposition seems likely. Inasmuch as the Establishment did unify, it was around Jeb. Given how poor a candidate this was, this tells me that the Establishment was too tied up with the Bush family to act effectively. Then there was Cruz, who didn’t give a damn about the Establishment, and who had the strongest claim on the Christian Right bloc. He was happy to declare himself the Establishment candidate once the Establishment turned to him in desperation, but he never showed any sign of interest in deferring to someone else as the Establishment candidate. Putting these together, the counterfactual that results in someone other than Trump being the nominee gives it to Cruz, not Rubio.

    By the time the primaries worked their way around to Maryland, Trump vs. Cruz was the choice left, with little realistic prospect of stopping Trump at that point. I am registered as a Republican for local reasons. I voted for Trump on the grounds that Cruz would make just as awful a President, though they would be awful in different ways, and Trump seemed to me the more unelectable candidate in the general election. I stand by this assessment.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Richard Hershberger
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      The problem is the GOP establishment is at least three establishments. The Business Establishment (Tax cuts now, tax cuts tomorrow, tax cuts forever. Also the same for deregulation), there’s the Anti-Abortion/Religious Establishment, and there’s the Racist/Xenophobe establishment. (You don’t dog whistle for 40 years and not claim “Let’s turn out the racists” ain’t part of the establishment).

      Trump basically stole a bunch of voters from one of the establishments, and Business and Religion were too busy slap-fighting each other to deal with him.Report

      • Avatar J_A in reply to Morat20
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        “The problem is the GOP establishment is at least three establishments. The Business Establishment (Tax cuts now, tax cuts tomorrow, tax cuts forever. Also the same for deregulation), there’s the Anti-Abortion/Religious Establishment, and there’s the Racist/Xenophobe establishment. (You don’t dog whistle for 40 years and not claim “Let’s turn out the racists” ain’t part of the establishment).”

        That’s why Generic Republican always wins the General. Because he caters equally to the four legs of the three legged stool (*). But in real life every candidate has to come from one or other of the legs, and have a lot of trouble getting the other legs to sign on.

        Plus, in this year, you had both Cruz and Trump running. Neither of them would ever consider sidestepping, making two of the legs unavailable for candidates coming from the other legs. The other legs have [more] money, but the Cruz and Trump legs have more bodies. At the end, bodies trumped money.

        And it’s not a new thing. Romney was able to gather only 52% of the 2012 Primary votes, even though he won 42 primaries. By the time he squeaked into the nomination, he had tilted so far to the right that there was no chance he could run as Generic Republican in the General. And only Generic Republican has a chance.

        (*) @morat20 is forgetting the Defense Hawks establishment, which is currently in hiding until after the election, when they can claim that Hillary is “weak” and don’t stand for AmericaReport

  8. Avatar CJColucci
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    says:

    Somebody superficially like Rubio could have been very strong. The actual, existing Rubio, not so much.Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to CJColucci
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      says:

      As I’ve said before, the moderate Marco Rubio of his initial Senate speech I was scared of. The problem was, the actual Marco Rubio was just as right wing as the rest of the Republican Party.

      Would Hillary have a bigger problem with Rubio than with Trump? Absolutely. But, I think people, especially #NeverTrumpers saying things like a possible Rubio/Haley ticket would be way ahead of Hillary is highly overestimating Rubio’s political skills and highly underestimating Team Clinton’s political skills.Report

  9. Avatar Maria
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    says:

    One of the things that I think handicapped pretty much any Republican candidate that had even a whiff of “the establishment” on them was that the governing record of Republicans in Washington is not inspirational. From my perspective, successfully knee-capping Obama at every opportunity turned them into a solely oppositional party. They had no positive results to run on outside of that. Legislation that was passed was not significantly meaningful to their voters, so when a candidate came along who really doesn’t give a hoot about governing, a large enough part of the base found their “home” in him. The fact that everyone and their brother was running in the R primary didn’t help, but the reality is that the total opposition to anything and everything Obama proposed, hinted at, or thought, contributed to weakening the chances of candidates like Rubio, Walker, or Bush gaining the nomination. The establishment couldn’t provide their voters enough of a reason to vote for them.Report

  10. Avatar Patrick
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    says:

    The thing that Trump has shown this year is that a lot of the disaffected GOP base is really really in love with The Wall.

    I think that doomed Marco, particularly in the field, but counterfactually I’m not sure he could have gone up against Donald in a tighter race, either.

    His one apostasy from the party line is immigration, and it’s the one apostasy that wrote out 30% of the primary crowd as a nonstarter.

    Let’s say it was three or four candidates instead of twelve. Jeb, Cruz, Marco, and Donald. Jeb dies about the same point in the race, does the money move to Marco faster? I’m not certain. Going in against Cruz and Trump… Cruz gets the edge on the evangelicals and Trump gets the edge on the antiestablishment crowd and nobody in the anti-immigration crowd is going to break from Trump or Cruz to Marco.

    Maybe.

    I agree with Dan that Marco was the better General Election candidate, so I’m working backwards trying to figure out how he could have come out of the primary better, but I’m not able to back-port that part of the election in my counterfactual.

    Because The Wall.Report

  11. Avatar Tod Kelly
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    says:

    Another great chapter in this series, Dan.

    I think the only thing I would add is that in 2016 there just wasn’t a way a Latino who looked, sounded, and acted Latino (as opposed someone like, say, Cruz) was ever going to win the GOP nomination.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Tod Kelly
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      says:

      I’m not sure even someone with as little Hispanic affect as Cruz could win. I went into this predicting that the GOP would nominate a white guy. I thought it would probably be Jeb, but whatever… One way of looking at the Trump nomination is that it shows how far the GOP will go to avoid nominating anyone with a Hispanic surname.

      Had Cruz been nominated, we would now be reading a bunch of think pieces about how Hispanic he is or is not, with those aimed at the base pushing his European ancestry and essential whiteness.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Tod Kelly
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      says:

      I’m not sure I see any really notable difference in the seeming Latino affect, accent, etc. in Cruz versus in Rubio.

      I do detect something of a class-related difference in affect. Cruz has that polished way of someone whose parents knew where they should send their son to prepare him to be at the head of a new generation of assimilated Latino-American leaders. Rubio has the slight hesitancy of a guy who had to figure it out as he went along, whose parents didn’t necessarily have much to offer in terms of specific guidance for advancing in the way Rubio wanted to do, beyond heartfelt encouragement.Report

  12. Avatar Francis
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    says:

    Dan:

    I think you’ve assigned way too much importance to a single moment. Every politician has a bad day or two, a gaffe, a clumsy response. Successful politicians rebound. Rubio’s problem was that the Christie attack revealed an essential truth — Rubio was actually as vacuous as he appeared.

    (or, to give credit where it’s due, see Burt’s comment above about the Dan Quayle syndrome.)Report

    • Avatar J_A in reply to Francis
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      Rubio never had a theme, a reason why we should vote him President. He isn’t the business and economics experienced hand you need coming from a recession (Romney), or versed in the military winding down a war (McCain). Both Trump and Cruz also have a theme, a vision they can present (the Wall, Making everything great, Christianity, No Surrender). But Rubio couldn’t because he had to dump the vision he had being developing for years, call it Hispanic integration or something, just when the campaign was about to start.Report

  13. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    says:

    I’m presuming Trump is the swine and Cruz is the worm.Report

  14. Avatar krogerfoot
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    says:

    I really like the idea of Rubio as the perfect candidate of the Counterfactual Party. “Just imagine how much he’d have accomplished by now, if only things had been different!”Report

  15. Avatar Michael Drew
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    says:

    Dan,

    Do you think Rubio just had to not have his Let’s-dispel-with moment or some other kind of spectacular meltdown, or just avoid a devastating moment in general in the debate, and he would have been on a path to a successful result in New Hampshire, and the altered series of events you have in mind? Or did he need to have a resounding victory of some kind in the debate to get onto that path.

    Because those seem like quite differently-leveraged counterfactuals. It’s one thing to consider a history in which just one fairly unlikely thing manages not to happen (Rubio melting down in such a strange, memorable way), but it’s quite another to imagine, on the same night, that he not only avoids that, but also avoids any of a number of less-spectacular missteps that could have soured what might have been a good night, AND is able to land enough quality punches on three or more rivals (Trump; Bush and Kasich, whom you’re focused on seeing him defeat that night; and then, as it turns out, Christie, who for whatever reason came ready to make trouble for the younger Floridian that night) to realize a performance that would have been received as commanding enough to take control of the race at that moment. That’s a tall ask.

    We can always wonder about what might have happened if, but there is also a point at which we run up against the real limitations of the people we’re thinking about in that particular time period. Perhaps Rubio could have had the kind of night he needed to get to where you’d like to have seen him, but perhaps he just didn’t have it in him. That’s the kind of thing that it makes less sense to think about in terms of counterfactuals.

    This comes to mind for me because I’ve been listening to a lot of lectures and podcasts about World War One for a few years now, and there a lot of both of those things in that history – things that were completely contingent: they easily could have been different; and things that were largely determined by the real limitations of people and nations – intellectual, physical, and emotional.Report

  16. Avatar J_A
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    There’s one more thing I never understood about the Three-Two-One strategy:

    What reason was there for the Rubio team, or for anybody, to think Rubio would win South Carolina? SC seems the wrong kind of place for Rubio to make a splash, too Christian (of the kind that don’t look kindly to a Catholic turned Mormon turned Catholic again), and too Anglo White (where being a Gang of Eight Latino is a disadvantage), South Carolina is exactly the place teeming with voters from the stool legs Rubio didn’t belong to. (*)

    So far, all counterfactuals about Rubio executing the Three-Two-One seemed based on saying that if every Jeb! and Kasich and etc. voter had instead voted for Marco, then Rubio would have carried the plurality and the state. That means that the race would have winnowed from sixteen to three candidates by then. A tall order, and even it additionally assumes Rubio would have captured every single notCruz, notTrump voter.

    (*) Was that the reason Rubio run full neocon hawk? Because not being a Christian of the right kind Anglo, he was trying to appeal to the military streak of South Carolina, to The Citadel voters?Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to J_A
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      says:

      J_A:
      (*) Was that the reason Rubio run full neocon hawk? Because not being a Christian of the right kind Anglo, he was trying to appeal to the military streak of South Carolina, to The Citadel voters?

      It’s sustained Lindsey Graham despite all the other odds that should be against him there.Report

      • Avatar J_A in reply to Kolohe
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        says:

        Yes, that’s indeed Graham’s full spiel. But Graham is an Anglo White of the proper Christian persuasion, so there’s nothing inherently objectionable about him, whereas Rubio is a two-fold heretic with a name that starts with a rolled R.

        Compared to Rubio, Graham is starting the game having already walked to second base.

        I guess going for The Citadel votes was the only thing Rubio could do, but it is far from being a hardy strategy. South Carolina had always to be a long shot for him. If Rubio and his campaign were putting all his chips on winning SC it doesn’t speak well of his strategist abilities.

        On the other side, Three-Two-One is probably an after-the-fact saving face rationalizationReport

  17. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    says:

    Rubio, of course, could have slammed the door in Chris Christie’s face with an ad-libbed answer about the number of canned lines and repeated themes that Christie used (did you know that Chris Christie was a federal prosecutor?), but instead, he tried to “take the high road” and avoid attacking Christie.

    I don’t understand this point at all. In that video Rubio did attack Christie, repeatedly, for not going back to New Jersey for the emergency until he was shamed into it. The disaster for Rubio was that in response to Christie’s ridiculing him for using the same canned criticism of Obama over and over, he repeated the same canned criticism of Christie over and over, and then repeated the canned Obama spiel again for good measure. It was a demonstration that Rubio couldn’t think on his feet, and lacked even the presence of mind to notice that he was repeating himself, and had nothing to do with taking the high road or the low one.Report

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