Christie And Bush Take Aim At Marco Rubio

Jeb Bush and Chris Christie have spent the holiday week taking aim at Marco Rubio.

Marco Rubio

While campaigning has been somewhat muted this week thanks to the fact that we’re between holidays and weather in the Midwest and elsewhere has impacted travel, several campaigns have been making the rounds, and the target among at least the ‘establishment’ wing of the GOP this week seems to be Florida Senator Marco Rubio:

Campaigning Tuesday in Iowa, Chris Christie didn’t want to answer Donald Trump’s scathing criticism Monday of his governing record. But he was eager to blast Marco Rubio for failing to show up and vote in the Senate.

“Dude, show up to work and vote no; and if you don’t want to, then quit,” Christie told voters during a town hall meeting in Muscatine, Iowa.

It’s the exact same line of attack against the Florida senator that Jeb Bush’s super PAC is now featuring in a new $1 million New Hampshire TV ad buy alleging that Rubio skipped a high-level intelligence briefing following the ISIL terror attacks in Paris in order to raise money for his campaign.

“Over the last three years, Rubio has missed important national security hearings and missed more total votes than any other senator. Politics first, that’s the Rubio way,” the narrator in the Right to Rise ad says.

The attacks are politically fraught for both establishment challengers: Christie has hardly shown up in Trenton to do his own job since committing to campaign almost full-time in New Hampshire; and Bush’s own attempt to prosecute this case against his former mentee in a late October debate backfired so spectacularly it prompted calls for him to drop out.

But with the starting gun of the primary fight little more than a month away, both contenders appear to be eyeing Rubio as their biggest obstacle in consolidating support from mainstream Republicans — and they’re zeroing in on what they see as the senator’s biggest weak spot just as he’s trying to close the sale.

“What you’re seeing is the clearest evidence of how wide open the center-right lane of the caucus electorate is in Iowa,” said Matt Strawn, a former Iowa GOP chairman who is uncommitted. “Those are all candidates that would love to get some momentum that will help them make their case in New Hampshire.”

“Both Bush and Christie see Rubio as the front-runner in that lane, and they’re trying to take him down so they have a better shot at it,” said Douglas Gross, who served as Mitt Romney’s 2012 Iowa finance chairman but, like a number of establishment conservatives, remains uncommitted.

The substance of the attack on Rubio not showing up to vote may matter less to establishment Republicans in Iowa, who are still trying to determine whether the young first-term senator is truly the GOP’s best general-election candidate. “I keep hearing that Rubio is people’s favorite among [choices Rubio, Bush and Christie] not because they love his voting record but because they think he’s the party’s best shot to beat Hillary Clinton,” Gross said. “So the other candidates really have to attack that electability narrative if they’re going to bring him down.”

But the absenteeism takedown has a chance of resonating in New Hampshire, where it runs parallel to recent stories about the Florida senator’s relatively light campaign schedule being a particular affront to an electorate that relishes its first-in-the-nation responsibility and demands accessibility from candidates.

“New Hampshire voters demand respect for their process and their prerogatives,” said Steve Schmidt, the GOP strategist who guided John McCain’s 2008 campaign. “The theme of Rubio’s absence from the state is likely to continue to be the focus of both Jeb Bush and Chris Christie.”

New Hampshire, after all, looks to be a decisive battle that will cull the establishment side of the primary down to one or two serious contenders. Christie is within striking distance of Rubio in an average of New Hampshire polls, trailing him just 11.5 percent to Rubio’s 12.8 percent. Bush, meanwhile, has an average of 7.8 percent in the state, well above his national average of 4.4 percent. With no clear consensus front-runner among the four candidates seeking a ticket out of the state (Ohio Gov. John Kasich being the fourth), the race may break in the eight days between the Iowa caucuses and the primary on Feb. 9.

“The four candidates that fit in that establishment lane understand that only one, maximum two of them, are coming out of New Hampshire,” Schmidt said. “The degree to which Christie and Jeb can collapse any chance of Rubio winning New Hampshire, they exit with a comeback narrative and it pushes to the outer limits the place where Rubio has a chance to get his first victory.”

In reality, it strikes me that the reality coming out of New Hampshire may well be that only one establishment candidate ends up coming out of the Granite State as a truly viable candidate, and that we will end up seeing significantly more winnowing of the field in the first two weeks of February than many may be anticipating. The main reason for this is that, immediately after the early primaries in February, the race heads immediately towards a Super Tuesday showdown across the south that is already being dubbed the “SEC Primary” due to the fact that it will be comprised largely of states that have football teams that are part of the SEC conference. In order to compete across that broad a region, a candidate is going to need to have access to a large campaign war chest and a well-organized campaign, and that’s going to take money. A candidate that doesn’t finish in the top three or four in Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina is unlikely to get the kind of donor support they’ll need in February to mount a serious campaign in March. Not all of these candidates will drop out right away, of course, since several of them will think they have some kind of point to make, but for all of the talk about how the 2016 race had become so unpredictable because of the presence of Donald Trump in the race, it seems clear that, once the voting starts, the race is likely to take on a more familiar look.

At the moment, the top four candidates in Iowa and South Carolina are Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, and Ben Carson. In New Hampshire, though, that top four is made up of Trump, Cruz, Rubio, and Chris Christie. In reality, Ben Carson is likely a falling star who won’t be staying in the top four anywhere before very long, so the battle at this point is for the fourth spot in the early primaries and, beyond that, a way to move into third as the “establishment” alternative to Trump and Cruz. To a large degree, this is why you see candidates like Christie, Bush, and, to some extent, Ohio Governor John Kasich, going after Marco Rubio. As things stand right now, Rubio is the candidate that stands between each of them and the chance to be part of what is likely to be the top of the field after the first two or three primaries. Given that, it’s only natural that these candidates would go after Rubio in the manner that they are. Whether it will work is another question.


FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. humanoid.panda says:

    The key to the 2012 primary, if you choose to believe that Trump will somehow dissipate, is that it is the exact opposite of 2012: there are a number of establishment candidates, and (again, if you presume Trump will not be there) only one extreme right candidate: Cruz.

  2. humanoid.panda says:

    In other words, one could make an argument only way an establishment candidate can win is if Trump stops Cruz from running away with this thing.

  3. C. Clavin says:

    Meanwhile the only reasonable moderate in the clown car, George Pataki, got out.
    Let’s be absolutely clear…neither Bush, nor Christie, nor Rubio are center-right. They may not be as whack as the guy that leads them by at least 3x…but they are still plenty whacked.

  4. CSK says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Any true Trumpkin will be more than happy to explain to you why these three are Obama-worshipping liberal communist socialists.

  5. al-Ameda says:

    I’ve always thought that Rubio was laying back (playing rope-a-dope) in this run up period.

    Absolutely nothing has been decided – no votes taken, no bulls*** straw polls, nothing but debates and polling. Iowa is a nutcase Republican caucus state dominated by evangelicals – Cruz should win there. New Hampshire is still a ways off, as is South Carolina.

    So I think Rubio has been biding his time while the others dissemble and bloviate. Sometime soon, perhaps in time for New Hampshire, Marco is going to have to say things of relative sanity and substance, the time for coasting maybe coming to an end

    I continue to believe that Rubio is the only one of the 4 – Trump, Bush, Cruz, Rubio – who can win at the top of the Republican ticket.

  6. DrDaveT says:

    The circular firing squad is now issuing blindfolds?

  7. Tillman says:

    they’re zeroing in on what they see as the senator’s biggest weak spot just as he’s trying to close the sale.

    The biggest weakness they can see is…missing votes and hearings. What Senators do for recreation. Bush hasn’t held office for near on a decade and Christie abandoned any pretense at representing New Jersey when he vetoed the pig crate ban just to avoid alienating Iowan producers. Coming off Rand Paul using the majority of his time last debate to attack Rubio, it seems as if the Republican party has given up any pretense of fighting Trump, just hoping primary voters won’t go for him because…¯\_(ツ)_/¯


    Sometime soon, perhaps in time for New Hampshire, Marco is going to have to say things of relative sanity and substance, the time for coasting maybe coming to an end

    That psychopath shell’s gotta crack open soon. He’s basically ended any hope of Bush becoming the nominee. If he can’t build on that (and I’m starting to have serious doubts), he’s not going to be able enough to engage whoever emerges from the Trump/Cruz cesspool.

  8. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Tillman: Unfortunately, Rubio isn’t a psychopath; he’s just a guy fighting above his weight class. Also unfortunately, the GOP selectorate appears to be of a mind to elect psychopathic and while Rubio isn’t, Cruz is.

  9. CSK says:

    This is somewhat OT, but very funny:

    The really hilarious part is that some Trump supporters don’t realize it’s a parody.

  10. CSK says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker:

    Narcissistic personality disorder, coupled with idiopathic non-specific loathsomeness, I believe.

  11. Ron Beasley says:

    Rubio is an easy target – he is lazy and has a sense of entitlement. He has been in elected office most of his and I doubt he ever did the job he was elected to do. I doubt that Rubio actually want’s to be president – a 24-7 job is not in his playbook. He is instead looking for a grifter job with.FOX news or talk radio.

  12. Tillman says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker: Cruz isn’t the right kind of psychopath. He’s almost blindly ambitious. He’s alienated too much of the party; he can get the nomination, but he won’t get the presidency with a halfhearted party apparatus behind him. As someone put text to a pic of him, “there’s no requirement in the Constitution that the president can’t be creepy.”

    It’s plausible Rubio’s biding his time and is going to crack sometime in the next month. The pressure from every non-Trump to take him down will have to force his hand. If he’s honestly trying to pull off a Giuliani and wait out the first two or three states of the primary, I heavily doubt he can execute. While I don’t think losing Iowa (or failing to show even) will harm his chances that much, more rests on New Hampshire and South Carolina.

  13. Tyrell says:

    This is interesting: O’Malley event draws one person ! I do think that O’Malley has some good ideas and needs to be heard. Having one person show up to hear him talk is totally the fault of the leadership of the Democratic Party leadership
    They do not want anyone else heard besides Hillary .

  14. Paul Hooson says:

    Two candidates with no chance ganging up against someone with only a slim chance…

  15. MarkedMan says:

    @Tyrell: I think you are way off base here. Sanders can draw thousands but O’Malley draws one and that’s the fault of the party leadership how? I think this more reflects the grifter economy in political advisors. They are soaking O’MALLeY’S supporters for millions and don’t even have the competence to either get people in the seats or at least cancel the event to avoid this fiasco?

  16. al-Ameda says:


    This is interesting: O’Malley event draws one person ! I do think that O’Malley has some good ideas and needs to be heard. Having one person show up to hear him talk is totally the fault of the leadership of the Democratic Party leadership

    They do not want anyone else heard besides Hillary .

    You’re blaming Democratic Party leadership for O’Malley’s lack of appeal?

    If O’Malley was all that you say is he would be polling and attracting support better than he is today. Look, I have no animus toward Martin O’Malley whatsoever, but the times I’ve seen him interviewed he just does not come across as a strong campaign force.

  17. André Kenji De Sousa says:

    If you are a Moderate Democrat O:Malley is a Northeastern Liberal that raised a lot of taxes and did not elect his successor. If you are African American O ‘Malley is the former mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland that said that all lives matter. There is nothing special for Latinos there too.

    John Edwards taught Democrats that saying the right things but having the wrong curriculum is a horrible choice.

  18. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Paul Hooson: It’s the conservative mindset at work, they don’t care that they’re living in a box by the river as long as the b###er down stream doesn’t got a box.