You would never know it, Ross Douthat remarks, but Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucus vote Tuesday evening.
You would never know it because the Republican establishment and the media declared Marco Rubio to be the winner. They are all saying that he is the right man for the job. They can live with Trump, but Cruz scares the bejeezus out of them.
You would never know it because Donald Trump, after offering a thoroughly gracious concession speech, decided that he needed to stand up and defend Ben Carson. You already know the story about the errant CNN news report about Carson’s after-caucus plans. I will not burden you with it again.
Apparently, Trump cannot accept defeat. He does not believe that he can ever lose in a fair fight. He heard the Carson story and decided that Cruz operatives had stolen his votes. Ergo, he really won the election. And if he didn’t, the Republican Party of Iowa owes him a do-over.
To that Cruz has been responding in a measured tone, making Trump look even more unhinged than usual. One of these days people will figure out that losing control is not a sign of strength and that ranting and raving does not make you look powerful. It’s a sign of weakness and desperation.
Frankly, I have never seen the rationale for the Carson candidacy anyway. Every time he steps on the debate stage he makes himself look like a fool. He would do best to fold up his tent and to get out of the race. Beyond that obvious point, if you believe that Trump really cares about Carson you’ll believe anything.
And let’s not overlook the fact that Trump, with his brilliant grasp of history and chronology, went to Arkansas to blame Ted Cruz for Obamacare. You see, Cruz, at the time Solicitor General of Texas, publicly supported John Roberts for Supreme Court Chief Justice. In truth, all Republicans and all conservatives did the same. Roberts was confirmed and went on to stab Republicans in the back by twice failing to overturn Obamacare. Cruz then changed his mind about Roberts. Many Republicans and conservatives did the same.
Of course, Cruz did not vote to confirm John Roberts. He was not in the Senate at the time. The point is too obvious to mention. No one is stupid enough to believe otherwise. To suggest that any politician who supported John Roberts is therefore responsible for Obamacare is absurd on its face. It suggests a candidate who is flailing, who hates to lose and who is losing control.
Of course, Trump can always regale himself with the knowledge that Jimmy Carter prefers him to Cruz. According to Carter, Trump knows so little about government and policy that he will be more “malleable” than Cruz. This should not be news. Establishment Republicans have been gravitating to Trump for the same reason. Since Carter has no guile, we ought to take his words at face value.
Anyway, Trump’s attack on Cruz is helping the candidacy of the Establishment favorite, Marco Rubio. You will have noticed that the big story coming out of Iowa was not the winner of the caucuses, but the third place finisher.
Of course, Rubio is being presented as the “can’t lose” candidate. In that he is a worthy successor to Mitt Romney and John McCain. One suspects that, as a member of the gang of eight, Rubio also qualifies as “malleable.”
One notes that Cruz was the original anti-Establishment senator. He came to the senate, not to do business with the powers-that-be but to shake things up. In that he succeeded. They all hate him and they are all afraid of him. If you believe that the Republican Establishment has largely succeeded, Cruz is not your man.
We have it on the authority of Rush Limbaugh that Rubio is a true conservative, and we also know that he succeeded in undermining one of the pillars holding up Obamacare—that is, government subsidies for insurance companies that are losing money on it.
Beyond that, Rubio has a very thin record—as does Cruz, for that matter—but then again, the candidates who have a record of achievement in government service seem highly unlikely to win.
The Republican electorate, in its wisdom, seems to believe that experience in government, knowing how the system works and knowing how to work the system, is of no real consequence. If, as seems increasingly unlikely, Trump were to become president, the real question will be: who’s in charge? In truth, Trump does not know enough to be in charge.
As for Rubio, he is now being attacked by Chris Christie as “the boy in the bubble,” and we will see how well that one works out. And yet, one gains the impression that while Rubio is an excellent politician, he has a problem, a flaw, one that is just beginning to be mentioned.
According, to Dana Milbank, Rubio is afraid. He is running scared. One might say that Ted Cruz seems congenitally incapable of being afraid or of ducking a fight, and that Donald Trump, the angry old man, is currently too wedded to the status of victim to show very much fear.
So, I quote Milbank because I think he has hit on something that many of us had sensed, but not quite expressed:
Marco Rubio is in an enviable position among mainstream Republican presidential candidates after his strong finish in Iowa. Yet the man is running scared.
The young Floridian is stumping through New Hampshire as if he’s campaigning to win the Cautious Caucus. He gives the same speech everywhere. The most tightly managed candidate in the race, he shuns risk and appears to live in mortal terror of mentioning the man who dominates the race.
Is Rubio being smart or is he afraid? Milbank collects the evidence:
Rubio’s determination not to be taken off of this bland message, or to engage Trump, may give the impression that he is above the fray. But it also can make him look weak and callow.
While other candidates, particularly Jeb Bush, have denounced Trump’s outrages, Rubio and allied groups have spent upward of $30 million on ads so far — some of it targeting Bush, Christie and Ted Cruz, but none of it targeting Trump. Rubio has mentioned Trump a couple of times on Twitter. In debates, he has frequently deflects questions about the mogul.
After the December debate, in which Rubio declined a chance to take on Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the country, Fox News asked Rubio why he hadn’t gone after Trump. Rubio said he wasn’t “going to spend a valuable 75 seconds on a debate stage talking about something that’s never going to happen.”
Voters’ questions, rather than spurring spontaneity, inspire more caution. Asked Wednesday what he’d do about the millions of illegal immigrants who otherwise haven’t broken any law, Rubio said, “We’ll figure something out.”
As for Trump, he has not yet directed his fire at Rubio. Yet, Ann Coulter, sensing an opportunity, chose to open a Trump rally by impugning Rubio’s manhood:
Ann Coulter, warming up a Trump crowd Tuesday night, called Rubio a “Cuban boy” who “wears high heels” and has “big ears.” (Ever-cautious Rubio, ridiculed last month for wearing “booties” with thick heels, quickly retired the offending footwear.)
One suspects that we are going to be hearing much more about Rubio’s caution and weakness. True enough, anger is not a platform, but caution isn’t either. If you were to ask yourself which presidential candidate is more likely to strike fear in the hearts of our enemies, the name of Marco Rubio would probably not even make the list.