The Corner

Politics & Policy

Re: Rubio’s Fans Should Relax

In response to Where Is Everybody?

Ramesh – you take issue with those who are calling for Jeb to drop out, and specifically with Mona Charen whose column today suggests just that:

Charen, a Rubio supporter, advises Jeb Bush to drop out of the campaign or at least stop criticizing her candidate. Her column is in the format of a letter to Bush, and she writes, “by attacking Rubio, you are attempting to sabotage the very best messenger the Republican party has found in decades.” Well, I guess that’s one way of describing the act of running a rival primary campaign. Perhaps Ted Cruz and the others should also drop out, and we can dispense with actually requiring Rubio to win any primaries?

Rubio is a very talented conservative. The view that he is the Republicans’ best candidate is a reasonable one to hold. But it’s also reasonable to contest that view. There are sensible Republicans who don’t believe it. Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz are among those who, presumably, don’t believe it. Other Republicans, with less of a personal interest in this question than his rivals, have both hopes and doubts about Rubio. They’ll reach a conclusion by listening to the criticisms, and to his responses.

So far Rubio seems to be weathering the criticisms just fine. If he is as great a candidate as many of his supporters believe, he will continue to do so. I don’t see why some of his fans are acting as though it’s urgent to truncate this process.

I mostly agree with this. But I’d add one important caveat: To wit, that it’s not quite fair to make the same argument on behalf of Ted Cruz’s continuing presence as on behalf of Jeb Bush’s. Implicit in Mona’s argument is that Ted Cruz has a reasonable chance of being the nominee but that Jeb Bush does not, and that is therefore time for Bush to get out before he causes some serious damage. That forecast may, of course, be wrong (or premature), and it may, of course, be self-serving. But it’s not too strange an augury at this stage.

In Iowa, Bush got just 2.8 percent of the vote; in New Hampshire and South Carolina, he is polling at 10 percent; and nationally, he is at 4.5 percent. His favorability ratings, meanwhile, are atrocious. From this information one might conclude that Jeb’s continuing to fight should not matter much to Rubio (or Cruz or Trump, for that matter): “Beyond the marginal effect of Bush’s negative ads,” one might ask, “why should the front-runners care if a guy who isn’t winning sticks around?” But this, I think, would be the wrong way of looking at the matter. Since June of last year, Bush has raised and spent an unbelievable amount of money, and, if his latest pronouncements are anything to go by, he seems determined to spend that money right up to the bitter end of his candidacy. That, of course, is his prerogative. But it is also a potentially wasteful prerogative.

Why? Well, because there is a serious opportunity cost to Bush’s remaining in the race. As should be obvious, money that is spent in the Republican primary cannot be spent with the aim of defeating the Democrat later in the year. If, like many Republicans, one thinks that Bush is now “toast,” one will reasonably be irritated that he is choosing to spend his cash on himself and not on the party writ large. Now, it is clearly the case that Rubio’s advocates have a more narrowly self-interested reason for wanting Bush out than the “good of the party” — frankly, they just don’t want him hitting their guy — but, their obvious interests aside, there is a good reason for unaffiliated conservatives to be skeptical of Bush’s insistence that he’s in for the long-haul. Hell, Even Jeb-backer Lindsey Graham has argued that Tuesday should be make or break. That Bush evidently disagrees should be raising eyebrows.

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