Republican Race Descends Into Childish Taunts, Name Calling

Ever since last week's debate, the race for the Republican nomination has come to resemble a schoolyard fight among a bunch of nine year-olds.

Tenth Republican Debate Rubio Trump Cruz

Ever since last week’s debate in which Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz attempted to bring down Donald Trump a peg or two by attacking him more directly than he has ever been attacked before, the race for the Republican nomination has come to resemble a schoolyard argument between a bunch of nine year-olds:

There’s talk of bad spray tans, sweat and urination. Accusations that a rival has ties to the mob. They’ve called one another “little” or “a con artist.” And they all agree that the other guys are liars.

In the run-up to Super Tuesday, Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Ted Cruz (Tex.) are hurling deeply personal attacks about one another’s appearances and personal backgrounds — amounting to a level of petty and profane discourse unprecedented in a presidential campaign. Voters express more sorrow than anger as the insults fly, while Republican Party leaders fear that the deteriorating tone of the race could have longer-term implications.

“I had hoped that this would be a campaign only about ideas and a vision for tomorrow. . . . But unfortunately, this has been a very different election year and things have worked out in ways no one anticipated,” Rubio told supporters Sunday at Patrick Henry College in Purcelville, Va

Moments later, his rally quickly grew chaotic as protesters stood, shouted and waved signs reading, “Marco Rubio Empty Suit.”

Supporters jeered at the protesters, while Rubio responded with a smile: “My suit wasn’t made in China. It’s not a Trump suit.”

The name-calling has long been the province of Trump, who has elevated the insult-tweet to an artform and who spent months tormenting now-departed candidate Jeb Bush as “low energy” and worse. But now Trump’s two main rivals — particularly Rubio — have suddenly joined in as Trump is poised for big wins in this week’s Super Tuesday primaries, personally attacking the billionaire GOP front-runner.

“I never thought I would see the Republican Party come to this, to act like children,” said Gail Garner, 67, who attended a Rubio rally Saturday in Birmingham, Ala. “It sounds like a bunch of kindergartners messing around on the playground.”

Party elders already concerned about how Trump’s rise could rob the GOP of a White House victory said they worry about how Rubio and others are now adopting his tactics.

“The catfight going on in the Republican Party right now is just an embarrassment,” said Fred Malek, finance chairman of the Republican Governors Association and a longtime major party donor. “This is schoolyard stuff. It’s disgusting and juvenile.”

Former Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), a supporter of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, said he’s “totally embarrassed by a lot of the things Trump has said and I understand why Rubio is swinging to the fences, but to get into who’s tall, who’s short, who’s got a decent haircut, who’s sweaty — I don’t like it.”

On the trail, Cruz has repeatedly called Trump and Rubio liars and on Sunday he suggested that Trump is refusing to disclose his tax returns because he has close business ties to the Mafia.

Trump complained Sunday about the fresh attacks and suggested, as he has before, that he might leave the party if they keep up.

“I’ve been very good, I’ve been very straight and honest and honorable and they’re not treating me well,” he said about party leaders on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

He accused Rubio of “saying terrible things, just personal, terrible things. And I don’t think it’s fair the way that the establishment is treating Donald Trump.”

On Twitter, however, Trump kept up the invective — mocking Rubio as a “little boy,” a “no-show senator” and a “lightweight.” Another tweet said Cruz “has accomplished absolutely nothing” for his Texas constituents.

At rallies in recent days, Trump also has repeatedly called Rubio “Little Marco” or “Little Rubio.” Rubio hit back Sunday night by mocking Trump at a rally at Roanoke College in Salem, Va., saying the businessman has tiny hands.

“You know what they say about men with small hands,” Rubio said, pausing for laughter. “You can’t trust them.”

(…)

Rubio especially has made his attacks more personal since deciding to go aggressively after Trump during the most recent Republican debate, on Thursday. The freshman senator on Friday read a series of Trump tweets aloud to thousands of supporters in downtown Dallas. He called Trump “a con artist” who “spent his entire career sticking it to the little guy.” He mocked Trump’s tough-guy demeanor, saying the front-runner “was the first guy who begged for Secret Service protection.” During Thursday’s debate, Rubio said that Trump needed extra makeup to cover up sweat and said Trump wanted a full-length mirror backstage “to make sure his pants weren’t wet.”

On Saturday in Alabama, Rubio told voters in Birmingham that “I’ve used strong words. My parents didn’t raise me that way, but I feel passionate about it.”

Then in Huntsville, he told voters that Trump “should be worrying about the lines around his eyes from the horrible spray tan.”

Rubio supporters appear to be reluctantly accepting his shift in tone.

“It’s like playground-at-the-school kind of behavior,” said Haydee Wilensky, 57, of Purcelville. “He needs to just focus on telling Republicans that Trump is not qualified.”

Trina Weir, 57, of Front Royal, Va., said, “I hate to see the sophomoric activity like that, but after the smoke clears, let’s see who’s being more substantive.”

To be fair, of course, you can’t exactly blame Rubio and Cruz for the fact that this campaign has descended into name-calling, ridicule, and vaguely sexual innuendo on the part of the candidates. That kind of rhetoric, and worse, has been a part of Donald Trump’s repertoire from the beginning of his campaign. In virtually every stump speech Trump has given, he has found the time to make fun of, or openly scorn in rhetoric that seems designed to rile up resentment in the audience, his fellow candidates, the President of the United States, the media (and especially the reporters covering his events, which always strikes me a odd), whatever random protester might happen to show up for a given event. He’s reserved especially vehement and demeaning rhetoric for Mexicans, John McCain, Megyn Kelly, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, a disabled New York Times reporter, and Muslims. . In many cases, such as Trump’s early effort to tag Jeb Bush as “low energy,” the attacks have been particularly effective, while in others even something that you would think would actually start offending people has had virtually no impact on his standing in the polls. And, of course, Trump’s Twitter feed has been an unremitting source of childish taunts since long before he entered the Presidential race. Given the example that Trump has set, it’s not entirely surprising that Rubio and Cruz, both of whom are arguably at the end of their ropes at this point, have decided to resort to the same sorts of attacks on Trump. They may or may not work, but both candidates are at the point in the race now where they’ve really got nothing left to lose. Seven months of calmly trying to explain how Trump is not a “true conservative” and waiting for him to implode have failed, and if Trump’s momentum isn’t stopped soon he is going to be alone on the path to the 1,237 delegates he needs to be the Republican Party nominee for President.

It’s also true that 2016 is hardly the first campaign in history where we’ve seen silly, insulting, and childish, and even offensive rhetoric. The 1884 election saw Grover Cleveland become the target of insinuations that he had fathered a child out of wedlock while his opponent, James G. Blaine, was given the title the “Continental Liar from the State of Maine.” The 1920 election was fought amid innuendo that Republican nominee had an African-American ancestor and thus had “Negro blood,” although somehow the newspapers of the time missed out entirely on the real story that Harding had had numerous extramarital affairs and would eventually father a child while serving as President that was kept secret from the public. The 1860 election was, of course, among the most vitriolic in all of American history and included incidents such as Abraham Lincoln being called a ‘gorilla,’ and, as would happen with Harding sixty years later, the rumor that Lincoln was part African-American. Worst of all among American elections, perhaps, was the election of 1800, which, as this short video reminds us, descended to levels that make the worst of what we see today seem rather tame by comparison:

As I noted four years ago, it’s tempting to say that the current campaign is the “nastiest campaign ever,” but history makes clear that this isn’t really true and that there has always been a level of nastiness and childishness to American politics that we’ll likely never get rid of. That being said, the rise of Donald Trump has seen the race for the Republican nomination dragged down into the gutter in a way that we haven’t seen in quite some time. The fact that Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have followed Trump into that gutter, while perhaps understandable, is nonetheless a fairly good indication of just how substance-free the race has become, and how desperate Rubio and Cruz have become in the face of the on-rushing train that is Donald Trump. Indeed, as they become more desperate we’re likely to see more of this childish nonsense until, finally, they come to accept the fact that their party has been taken over by Donald Trump.

 

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds 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. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Guarneri says:

    “Ever since last week’s debate in which Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz attempted to bring down Donald Trump a peg or two by attacking him more directly than he has ever been attacked before, the race for the Republican nomination has come to resemble a schoolyard argument between a bunch of nine year-olds:”

    So it’s like the OTB comments section……..

  2. al-Ameda says:

    Trina Weir, 57, of Front Royal, Va., said, “I hate to see the sophomoric activity like that, but after the smoke clears, let’s see who’s being more substantive.”

    Good luck with THAT Trina.

    Through much of the 1970s, and all through the 1980s the Democratic Party was the one wandering in the desert, trying to get it’s footing, trying to present itself as respectable and electable in national elections. It just was not happening. From 1968 through 1988 Democrats won the presidency once in 6 tries (the ill-fated Jimmy Carter in 1976).

    Now it seems that Republicans are the lost children, however, it does not seem to matter, there are no apparent consequences for 7 years of obstruction and misrepresentation of reality – Republicans control a wide majority of state houses, as well as our Congress. Despite GOP establishment angst, and handwringing by the political commentariat, the GOP is on the verge of winning the White House too. Clearly, the public, as angry and dumbed down as they currently are, wants what Republicans are offering. Depressing, but the American people get what they want and deserve.

  3. C. Clavin says:

    I thought John Oliver did a great job of taking down Trump without resorting to this kind of crap:

    “So if you are thinking of voting for Donald Trump, the charismatic guy promising to ‘Make America Great Again,’ stop and take a moment to imagine how you would feel if you just met a guy named Donald Drumpf*: a litigious, serial liar with a string of broken business ventures and the support of a former Klan leader who he can’t decide whether or not to condemn…Would you think he would make a good president, or is the spell now somewhat broken?”

    *Drumpf was originally the Trump family name; his grandfather changed it in the late 1800’s.

  4. grumpy realist says:

    @Guarneri: If it’s so bad here, why do you comment? You have the freedom to never show up here again. No one’s tied you to the computer, no?

    So given that you are one of the more prolific commentators, how much of the problem you complain about is your own responsibility?

    Hmmm?

  5. bloated sack of protoplasm says:

    Whistle while you work…Stevenson’s a Jerk.
    Eisenhower’s got the power Stevenson won’t work!

    This was the tune we kids warbled as the campaign trucks came through our neighborhood with loudspeakers blaring and candy flying through the air in the summer of 1956.
    I was all of 8 years old at the time and I do remember my dad mildly chastising me.
    “That’s really not very nice.” he said when he got home from work.
    He liked Ike.

  6. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @al-Ameda:

    the GOP is on the verge of winning the White House too

    Really????

  7. Bob@Youngstown says:

    Republican Race Descends Into Childish Taunts, Name Calling

    Were you expecting something else?

    My guess is that Trump supporters are attracted by how he says things, and have no care at all about the substance of what he says.

  8. James Pearce says:

    Rubio hit back Sunday night by mocking Trump at a rally at Roanoke College in Salem, Va., saying the businessman has tiny hands.

    Was getting caught up on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia this weekend and this “tiny hands” crack reminded me of Uncle Jack.

    “Nobody look!”

    (Anybody?)

  9. reid says:

    @Bob@Youngstown: Just gotta appear tough. Nothing else matters.

  10. Scott says:

    After the first two debates, I stopped watching. There was so substantive conversations being had and it has just gotten worse. Of course, I could blame the news media, and they do contribute their share, but the campaign season has been just depressing for anyone who wants to know what any of these candidates will do and, more importantly, how they will do them.

  11. Moosebreath says:

    A significant part of the problem rests with the media, who have been giving Trump nearly unlimited time and only have been showing the rest of the Republican field when the attack Trump, not when they discuss policy. If the only way they are getting coverage is to insult Trump, it makes sense for them to insult Trump.

  12. MBungte says:

    Trump is Trump and Cruz, while getting a little more personal and aggressive, is basically attacking the same way he did before.

    Rubio, however, has gone from “Mr. Nice Guy” to Donald Trump Jr. in a heartbeat, only emphasizing that he’s just an empty suit who does whatever his handlers tell him to do.

    The whole mess, though, merely demonstrates the low opinion the GOP has of its own voters. The people who like Trump, even the racists, don’t like him because he’s an insult comic. They like him because they feel he’s on their side. If Rubio kept up the attacks on Trump’s business record, he might make some headway.

    Mike

  13. MBungte says:

    @Moosebreath:

    The only break I’ll give the media is that the GOP Presidential discussions for a couple of decades now have been vacuous recitations of discredited economic theories and hysterical fear-mongering. It’s not like Trump intruded in a meeting of the Harvard debating society. He brought better BS to a BS party.

    Mike

  14. michelle says:

    All I could think when I watched these “men” in action was….

    We are currently living in a culture where a bullying is hot topic and are bombarding our children with efforts to teach them how wrong it is. How on earth can they take anything we as adults are teaching them about bullying seriously if our presidential candidates can’t even resist engaging in taunts about each others appearance and bodily functions????? After seeing them in action any desire to want to know their stance on any real political issues didn’t matter to me at all because that told me everything I really needed to know. I did however think that we could create a video of them in action and use it in our schools classrooms as a training aid. We could ask the students to count how many examples of bullying they could find followed by a classroom discussion about why they would behave differently as mature “adults”. If we turned their responses into television, radio and internet ads our children’s responses may become the most powerful anti bullying messages created yet.

    Shame on them and shame on us for putting up there to set examples for our children!!! We have so far to go…..

  15. rodney dill says:

    Looks like a good Caption Contest picture.

  16. michelle says:

    All I could think when I watched these “men” in action was….

    We are currently living in a culture where bullying is hot topic and are bombarding our children with efforts to teach them how wrong it is. How on earth can they take anything we as adults are teaching them about bullying seriously if our presidential candidates can’t even resist engaging in taunts about each others appearance and bodily functions????? After seeing them in action any desire to want to know their stance on any real political issues didn’t matter to me at all because that told me everything I really needed to know. I did however think that we could create a video of them in action and use it in our schools classrooms as a teaching aid. We could ask the students to count how many examples of bullying they could find followed by a classroom discussion about why they would behave differently as mature “adults”. If we turned their responses into television, radio and internet ads those may become the most powerful anti bullying messages created yet.

    Shame on them and shame on us!!!! Too bad we can’t force those three to publicly apologize to our children or withdraw. I may not be famous or have access to ways I can publicly influence our nation like they do, but I suddenly feel grateful for what I “know” and cannot understand how we have allowed ourselves to look to them for guidance and leadership.

  17. michelle says:

    @michelle: sorry I posted this twice. I posted first one by mistake before I was done and had checked for grammatical errors and can’t figure out how the delete it……

  18. C. Clavin says:

    BREAKING: Today Clarence Thomas asked a question from the bench for the first time in 10 years. Apparently he thinks people convicted of domestic abuse should still be able to own a gun.

  19. Davebo says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Clarence no longer has Antonin around to ask questions for him.

  20. Dumb Brit says:

    So Donald Trump didn’t know who David Duke was due to a lousy hairpiece?

  21. Hal_10000 says:

    As I said in the other thread, several GOP candidates have *tried* to avoid the childish BS and be substantive. You can see where it got them. Bush out. Christie out. Kasich faltering. It seems like childish taunts are the only thing that garner attention (and, to be fair, both Rubio and Cruz are still talking a lot of policy in their speeches. We’re just focusing on the three minutes of insult comedy).

    As someone who was once a Republican and still has some regard for the party in my slimy political heart, I’m for anything that keeps Trump from taking over. Hell, just as an American, I don’t want to see one of our major parties descend into the vile populist abyss. It may be a doomed effort, but at least go out on your shields.

  22. SenyorDave says:

    @C. Clavin: Today Clarence Thomas asked a question from the bench for the first time in 10 years. Apparently he thinks people convicted of domestic abuse should still be able to own a gun

    My prediction is that in about 6 months we’re going to wish that he had kept his mouth shut.

  23. Peterh says:

    for the last few election cycles (maybe longer), there’s been a recurring theme associated with the Republican candidate pool….that being the Clown Car….and for good reason….

  24. C. Clavin says:

    @Hal_10000:

    I’m for anything that keeps Trump from taking over.

    Neither Cruz nor Rubio are prizes…and neither of them is qualified for the job.

  25. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The fact that Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have followed Trump into that gutter, while perhaps understandable, is nonetheless a fairly good indication of just how substance-free the race has become,

    Doug, the Republican race has been substance free from the very beginning. Not one of these Quasimodo’s has ever offered anything even approaching a real world policy. On the budget, the economy, the Middle East, Russia, taxes, climate change, energy, DoD, education, ad infinitum it’s all been talking points, the same stale talking points they have been proffering since 1980. It’s like the GOP has had a dozen different talking dolls up on the stage, you pull the ring on their backs and Ronald Reagan’s voice comes out of their mouths.

    That is today’s GOP: The Ghost of Ronald Reagan.

  26. gVOR08 says:

    @Dumb Brit: And apparently no one on his staff both knew who David Duke is and was willing to say so to the boss.

  27. bloated sack of protoplasm says:

    @Moosebreath:..A significant part of the problem rests with the media,..

    U don’t say!

    After Juan Williams Criticizes Trump’s KKK Comments,
    Fox Hosts Freak Out!
    http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2016/02/29/3754695/trump-fox-news-juan-williams/?ref=yfp

  28. al-Ameda says:

    @Bob@Youngstown:

    @al-Ameda:
    the GOP is on the verge of winning the White House too
    ——-
    Really????

    I wish I could be confident that Democratic voter turnout will be sufficient to easily defeat any Republican, but I’m not.

  29. Peacewood says:

    @rodney dill:

    Looks like a good Caption Contest picture.

    “Mine is really this big!”

  30. Tony W says:

    @Peacewood: John Oliver is right – Trump’s fingers don’t look very big.

  31. MBunge says:

    @Hal_10000: several GOP candidates have *tried* to avoid the childish BS and be substantive.

    If by substantive, you mean talking about public policy in some detail, that would be correct.

    If you mean substative as saying something of substance about the challenges facing the country and what can be done about them, you are dead wrong.

    What is Rubio’s plan for dealing with ISIS? What is Cruz going to do about income inequality? Climate change? Budget deficits? Rebuilding American infrastructure? Drug legalization? Criminal justice reform? The public furor over black people being killed by police for seemingly no good reason? Student loan debt? Equal rights for homosexuals? Equal pay for women? The smoking ruin that is our immigration system?

    The door was open for Trump because the GOP hasn’t been offering substantive discussion on pretty much anything for the last 7 years and damn little more for the 20 years before that.

    Mike

  32. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Guarneri: Speaking for yourself? I wouldn’t have imagined such insight or candor.

  33. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Moosebreath: Republicans running for President have been discussing policy? I need to find out about this. Who’s been covering it?