Byron York doesn’t see how Rubio’s national security attacks are going to pay off:
But it’s also hard to see how Rubio could convince many GOP voters, even those who don’t support Cruz, that Cruz is somehow soft on national defense. And yet that is apparently what Rubio hopes to do.
The problem for Rubio is that all of the supposed strengths of his campaign have turned out to be significant weaknesses for him in a Republican nomination contest. While he was once hailed as the party’s “savior” because of his immigration views and his background, he has had to scramble to distance himself from the views that made him a favor of donors and party leaders, and Cruz’s family story has enough similarities with his to make it redundant. His response to Cruz’s attacks on his record has been to try to blur the differences between them, implicitly arguing that neither Cruz nor Rubio can be trusted on this issue. He assumed that he could turn Cruz’s slipperiness against him, but in the process just reminded voters of his own. Despite the confidence of many of his boosters that immigration didn’t wreck his chance to win the nomination, it has hurt his candidacy more than any other issue and he doesn’t know how to recover.
Credited with foreign policy “expertise” much greater than what he has, Rubio has also sought to shape the foreign policy debate with Bush-era nostrums and reflexive interventionism. He has since discovered that there aren’t many voters looking for rebooted neoconservatism and another decade of ideological crusading, but that is all that he has to offer. Now he is reduced to flinging insults from 2002 that used to be reserved for members of the other party:
If ISIS had lobbyists in Washington, they would have spent millions to support the anti-intelligence law that was just passed with the help of some Republicans now running for president.
As York notes, Rubio is denouncing large numbers of Republicans in Congress (and millions more across the country) as doing the bidding of a terrorist organization because they took a different position on a surveillance bill from his. Rubio also dishonestly presents the bill as an “anti-intelligence law,” which is one of the more transparent lies of his campaign. That may be a good way to win praise from Wall Street Journal editors, but it’s a horrible way to win over skeptical voters. Just as he doesn’t understand that every foreign policy argument can’t be settled by shouting “isolationist” at an opponent, Rubio doesn’t grasp that he can’t win a national security debate by accusing his Republican rivals of helping terrorists. The accusation is ridiculous, and it makes Rubio look like a fool.
I suspect Rubio is resorting to such extremely shoddy arguments because he is realizing that his campaign is in trouble and needs his main rivals to collapse quickly if he is to have any chance. The bad news for Rubio is that every “clever” attack he launches against them makes him seem less appealing to the voters he needs to start winning over in the weeks before voting starts.