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The Establishment Wins With Rubio

Politics is more about organization than raw enthusiasm. Donald Trump was beaten last night by Ted Cruz’s organization in Iowa—and more significantly, they will both be beaten by Marco Rubio’s organization nationally. That’s because Rubio’s organization is not only his campaign but the Republican establishment and conservative movement as well. He can even count on the organized power of the mainstream media aiding him, for while the old media may dislike Republicans in general, they particularly loathe right-wing populist Republicans like Cruz and Trump.

A divided right is the classic set-up for an establishment Republican’s nomination. Cruz and Trump draw upon the same base of voters. Rubio, it’s true, has establishment rivals to finish off in New Hampshire—Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich. But Rubio has been within a few points of Bush and Kasich in recent New Hampshire polls, and after Iowa it’s not hard to imagine him gaining three or four points, probably more, over the next week. Cruz, who hasn’t been far ahead of the moderates in the Granite State, might also gain a few points, but those will most likely come at the expense of Trump, who to be sure has plenty of margin to spare. Although it’s possible that Trump and Cruz will finish first and second in New Hampshire by splitting a big right-wing turnout, Rubio seems to have a good shot at placing second by swiftly becoming the establishment’s unity candidate.

Jeb Bush may hate his fellow Floridian, but Bush has a family—a political dynasty—to think about. The whole family’s political fortunes depend on Republicans, and establishment Republicans at that, winning again. Does Jeb want to be the Bush who turned his party over to Trump or Cruz (hardly beloved by his fellow Texan George W.) and their uncouth supporters, only to lose in November? The family’s rich and influential friends know the score, and they’re on the phone with Jeb right now telling him to get out. His son, George P., will do just fine in a Rubio administration, and who knows, maybe Jeb himself can be ambassador to Mexico.

The story of how Rubio won the establishment’s civil war is the story of just how adroit the neoconservative “deciders” [1] really are. Neoconservatives compounded the George W. Bush administration’s Iraq folly, but because Bush was the brand name attached to the disastrous policies of 2001-2009, the Bush family suffered the consequences far more than did the obscure policy hacks and think-tank propagandists (and their billionaire backers) who egged the administration’s warhawks on. The neoconservatives have turned against the Bush family in part because it’s damaged goods, in part because the Bushes had started to catch on: George W. began to reconnect with foreign-policy realists in his second term, and while Jeb may count Paul Wolfowitz among his advisers, he also consorts with James Baker, anathema to the neocons.

Heading into 2016, neoconservative foreign policy needed a new, untainted brand and a less experienced, more malleable candidate—someone who wouldn’t be as wary as an old Bush might be. In Marco Rubio, everything was ready-made. The fact that Rubio’s brand isn’t foreign-policy failure—the legacy the Bushes must live with—but rather that of a fresh-faced Hispanic, a new and different kind of Republican, meant that the media and public would not guess that what they were in store for was more of what was worst in the George W. Bush administration. As if to taunt the forgetful, the Rubio campaign adopted as its slogan “A New American Century”—counting on no columnist or newscaster to remember the name of the defunct Kristol-Kagan invasion factory [2]. Rubio has been similarly blunt in his hawkish statements throughout the Republican debates.

Conservative realists as well as libertarians are apt to be dismayed by Rand Paul’s fifth-place finish in Iowa, ahead of Bush by roughly two points but behind Ben Carson by nearly five. Ron Paul had finished third in 2012, with 21 percent of the vote compared to his son’s 4.5 percent this year. But anything short of the nomination is only worthwhile as a learning experience and as an opportunity for further organization, and in that regard Paul’s well-wishers need not be discouraged. Though the Republican Party has reverted to a hawkish disposition since 2013, there is still a better-organized counter-neocon faction in the party today than there was in 2003, when the Iraq War began, or even 2006, when Republicans paid the political price for the war. And it’s notable that the top finishers in Iowa, Trump and Cruz, while being far from realists or libertarians, are almost equally far from being neoconservatives. The party’s foreign-policy attitudes are more diverse today than they were even in 2012.

Both libertarians and conservative realists got carried away by their own hopes in the five easy years between 2006 and 2013, when the domestic political climate and world events alike took a favorable turn for realism and made things maximally difficult for neoconservatives and hawks. Today things are hard for everyone—though the hawks and neoconservatives are fortunate in having an avatar like Rubio, whose youth, looks, and race make even those who should know better yearn to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The danger is that libertarians and traditional conservatives will learn the wrong lesson now: the problem is not exactly that Rand Paul was not more like Ron Paul in his unbending libertarianism or more like Trump in his rabble-stiring populism. To be sure, Rand came off as sometimes tentative and embarrassed about his principles, and in trying to appeal to the hawkish evangelical right he only alienated his base while failing to win much new support. But while his father did better in 2012 and Trump did better still this year, neither of them had what it takes to actually win. The insurgent right is extraordinarily bad at politics and consistently mistakes raw enthusiasm for effective electoral power. Ron Paul couldn’t leverage his third-place Iowa finish in 2012 the way Rubio’s allies are set to capitalize on his third-place finish this year because the extra-political as well as political organization that Rubio commands dwarfs anything that the libertarian or populist right possesses, and the neoconservatives have been much more effective at devising narratives and message-frameworks that the mainstream media and the business class can support. Trump might get second place, Ron Paul might get third, yet both remain fringe figures to the opinion-forming classes.

Rather than face this fact, too many true believers on the right prefer to retreat into fantasy—indulging in dreams of third parties or sudden popular uprisings or the triumph of disembodied ideas over mere flesh-and-blood politics. Yet better, more far-sighted organization in politics and the media is the only way to advance worldly change. The neoconservatives have understood this better than anyone.

And so the neoconservatives have won the civil war for the Republican establishment, beating the semi-neocon Bushes and elevating their preferred candidate, Marco Rubio, to the role of establishment savior. The unified neoconservative-establishment bloc now waits for Trump and Cruz to bleed each other dry, before Rubio finishes off whoever remains—probably Cruz. Should all proceed according to plan, the fresh-faced establishment Republican champion then goes to face the haggard old champion of the Democratic establishment, Hillary Clinton, in November. Whoever wins, the cause of peace and limited government loses. Yet even then there will come a backlash, as always before, and next time perhaps an opposition will be better prepared.

24 Comments (Open | Close)

24 Comments To "The Establishment Wins With Rubio"

#1 Comment By Clint On February 2, 2016 @ 5:37 am

The real victory for True Conservatism will be the wrestling away of the control of the GOP from the faux conservative neoconservative faction.

Rubio is one more blatant neoconservative frontman,while Cruz is a sleatlh neoconservative frontman.

The neoconservatives gave us losers McCain and Romney after they duped Bush into Iraq.

#2 Comment By MikeCLT On February 2, 2016 @ 7:15 am

Don’t give up just yet.

#3 Comment By Alan Vanneman On February 2, 2016 @ 8:28 am

This is a nice analysis, but it isn’t simply the neocons who are in favor of a “firm” foreign policy. Scarcely a week goes by without a former Obama Administration official “explaining” how the president got it all wrong by not arming the moderates in Syria or Ukraine, or wherever. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever read a criticism from a former administration official who accused the president of being “too interventionist.” The notion of a “Pax Americana” still has a very strong appeal among America’s foreign policy elite.

#4 Comment By JohnG On February 2, 2016 @ 9:47 am

I fear that the analysis is right and hope that it is wrong. On the bright side, the non and openly anti-establishment vote is roughly 2/3 so there is hope!

To say that it will be interesting to watch what happens with Huckabee’s and (eventually) Carson’s voters (where do they go and why) is an understatement. And to see how the Donald adjusts to the situation, the drama is only beginning.

#5 Comment By John Gruskos On February 2, 2016 @ 10:52 am

This was a resounding *defeat* for the establishment.

The two men they most hate, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, came in first and second.

The combined votes of *all* the establishment candidates (Rubio, Bush, Christie, Kasich and Fiorina)was less than 1/3 of the total votes cast – even with threatening weather suppressing conservative turnout in western Iowa and a notoriously corrupt Iowa caucus establishment blatantly favoring the establishment candidates.

The establishment platform (invade the world, invite the world, social liberalism, and regressive taxes to pay for it all) has been decisively rejected, their big donors and media have been exposed as powerless to help their candidates win, even in the most favorable circumstances.

#6 Comment By Mr. Libertarian On February 2, 2016 @ 11:08 am

I think this analysis is spot on as far as it goes. However, I would just remark, as some of these other persons have that it is too soon to project Marco Rubio has won the nomination. Cruz and Trump are not going to go down without a fight—and now that their opponent has emerged clearly, Rubio is going to be attacked by both with vigor.

Almost to a person, most establishment Republicans tell me privately that Iraq was a catastrophe and Bush blundered into the war, in addition to generally being strongly critical of various aspects of his administration and term in office. However, many of them are Rubio supporter a (also former Jeb guys are realizing this ain’t happening; still some bitter clingers at my caucus watch party last night were shocked Jeb was getting 3%, assuming he’d buy more votes at the last minute).

But I just do not get it. Rubio is an unreconstructed neocon. And he’s brash, and prone to making bold proclamations. He’ll have us in so many wars, interventions and unnecessary confrontations it’ll make the Bush years resemble the Era of Good Feelings of the 1820’s.

It’s just like how all these Democrats are crawling over glass to put the Clintons back into the White House despite the fact she’s shown horrible judgment on foreign policy and hasn’t demonstrated that she learned anything from Iraq outside of a hollow apology delivered for the sole purposes of political expediency. She and the neocons can cry all they want about how the decision is so last decade— nevertheless it’s still having horrible repercussions in the present. The region is disintegrating, ISIS and other terror groups are running amok, people including American are still dying, and a raft of migrants are flooding into Europe and America!

If it comes down to Clinton v. Rubio, I’m voting third-party.

If it comes down to Sanders v. Rubio, I’m voting for Sanders.

Goody, goody gumdrops!

#7 Comment By Corey On February 2, 2016 @ 11:18 am

If Rubio is the “fresh face” of the “Republican establishment,” then that simply means that “establishment” has lost all meaning. Rubio and Cruz are very close politically- Cruz is no populist on policy, and in fact, Rubio’s reformist platform offers far more to the middle class and those in poverty. The major difference between them is in tone and legislative tactics. That AmCon writers are so blinded by their hatred of “neo-conservatism” that they can’t see that is troubling.

#8 Comment By Lynn On February 2, 2016 @ 2:08 pm

Rubio has absolutely been groomed and his FP is absolutely neo-con hawkish. His super-precise answers always sound coached.

[3]

#9 Comment By Ken Hoop On February 2, 2016 @ 3:46 pm

Another scenario to hope for is that Sanders really will build a “movement” which can eventually engage in street action, hopefully together with anti-Elite rightists, of a OWS but more polished nature and related also to antiwar protests of a kind mirroring that of the Vietnam Era whe Rubio-or Clinton gets us in too many or too big quagmires protecting Israel and the oiligarchs and the m-i complex itself.

The Empire is not going to dismantle voluntarily
via parlor politics, none has in the past.

#10 Comment By MeekandInoffensive On February 2, 2016 @ 6:21 pm

Minor quibble: the column refers to Rubio’s “race.”

“Hispanic” or “Latino” is not a race. There are Hispanics/Latinos who are 100% genetically white European, some who are almost zero percent genetically white European, and everywhere in between.

#11 Comment By MeekandInoffensive On February 2, 2016 @ 6:24 pm

Mr. Libertarian: Boy do I share your sentiments. I’d just add that either Rubio-Clinton or Rubio-Sanders calls for a third-party vote in November.

I’ll vote Rand Paul in the California primary in June and brace, as usual, for a general election in which I am disgusted with any candidate who we’re told has a real chance of winning….

#12 Comment By William Dalton On February 2, 2016 @ 10:25 pm

If the mainstream media would spend half the time ridiculing Marco Rubio for his reckless provocations to war with countries hither and yon as they do with Trump’s calumnies against immigrants and Muslims or Cruz’ jeremiads against Obamacare and infidelity to the Constitution (and most of them had no more use for Bush’s wars when Obama campaigned against them than they do the other Republican shibboleths) there would be no recourse for the GOP Establishment to find shelter with another neo-con advocate of the welfare-warefare state. Rand Paul would be their man by default.

#13 Comment By William Dalton On February 2, 2016 @ 10:40 pm

“Ron Paul couldn’t leverage his third-place Iowa finish in 2012 the way Rubio’s allies are set to capitalize on his third-place finish this year because the extra-political as well as political organization that Rubio commands dwarfs anything that the libertarian or populist right possesses, and the neoconservatives have been much more effective at devising narratives and message-frameworks that the mainstream media and the business class can support.”

“Rather than face this fact, too many true believers on the right prefer to retreat into fantasy—indulging in dreams of third parties or sudden popular uprisings or the triumph of disembodied ideas over mere flesh-and-blood politics. Yet better, more far-sighted organization in politics and the media is the only way to advance worldly change.”

I had the impression this had been the project of the Paul movement and the Campaign for Liberty since 2008 and 2012. If they haven’t advanced any further now in 2016, just what are they supposed to do they haven’t done to improve their organization and influence in the media – hold their opponents at gunpoint?

In my experience, too many in the Liberty campaign have been distracted by nonessentials – battles over Common Core education, or toll roads, or joining the Cruzers in trying to bring the government to a halt in the pursuit of taking down Obamacare or Planned Parenthood. They are missing the forest for the trees – war is the health of the State. There is no dismantling the “State within the State” which rules the United States until the troops are brought home and the idea of sending them overseas again so fully excoriated as not to be raised again.

If this means building a coalition with the Bernie Sanders of the U.S. Congress perhaps now is the time to do it.

#14 Comment By Kurt Gayle On February 2, 2016 @ 11:58 pm

Daniel McCarthy recommends: “Devising narratives and message-frameworks that the mainstream media and the business class can support…[and trying not to] remain fringe figures to the opinion-forming classes.”

Daniel, you want us to play the same games that the wealthy elites play in order to control us and to sell us out.

You want us to play by the very rules that the wealthy elites play by as they bring the country low for their own selfish ends.

You want us to fawn over these wealthy elites by “devising narratives…[that] the mainstream media and the business class can support.” You want us to suck up to “the opinion-forming classes.”

How about this, Daniel? We change how the game is played. We learn to play a new game – the object of which is to achieve what is best for all Americans – not just for the wealthy elites.

#15 Comment By Clint On February 3, 2016 @ 7:30 am

Rubio’s aggressive approach to US Middle East policy seems tame compared with the opinions expressed by his longstanding patron, Norman Braman.

Braman contributed more than $300,000 to a US-based nonprofit that supports an illegal Israeli settlement.

Braman, a billionaire auto dealer and a longtime supporter of the senator’s political career who has personally employed Rubio as a lawyer, has contributed $5 million, thus far, to a Super PAC supportive of his candidacy. Through a now-defunct family foundation that employed Rubio’s wife, Braman donated $311,000 to American Friends of Ariel, a US-based nonprofit that supports the Israeli settlement in the West Bank. The settlement is illegal under international law and a contradiction of longstanding US policy, which opposes settlement construction and expansion.

Follow Rubio’s Campaign Money Trail.

#16 Comment By Scott McConnell On February 3, 2016 @ 9:54 am

In a triangular race between two Cubans and an Anglo, I wonder if any voters would lean towards the Anglo subconsciously, without even wondering why.

#17 Comment By LouisM On February 3, 2016 @ 12:05 pm

I really don’t see how coming in 3rd in any way reassures the establishment. The republican party has been in a growing revolt for many of the Bush and all of the Obama years. If the establishment is reassured by Rubio then they are hanging on to a perception that will be swept away if not now then soon. Pat Buchanan is correct, this revolt that catapulted Trump is not going away and like McGovern it will change the republican party as we know it. If the establishment is reassured by Rubio then they are ostriches who are still oblivious to American life outside the beltway…oblivious to anything outside the US govt.

#18 Comment By Clint On February 3, 2016 @ 2:21 pm

In a triangular race between two Cubans and an Anglo, I wonder if any voters would lean towards the Anglo subconsciously, without even wondering why.

About as many as would lean towards a “Cuban American ” subconsciously,without even wondering why.

#19 Comment By J Haider On February 3, 2016 @ 8:22 pm

“Rather than face this fact, too many true believers on the right prefer to retreat into fantasy—indulging in dreams of third parties or sudden popular uprisings or the triumph of disembodied ideas over mere flesh-and-blood politics.”

—No, no, no. The neocons have massively disproportionate influence in the two main parties because their ideas are useful to the ruling class. The abandonment of empire is not. What you dub “realism” is extremely broad but the James Baker-wing only disagrees with the neocons in method (really in quantitative degree of the applied method) and not ultimate goals.

You can bash your head against the wall a hundred times, maybe a few times out of this hundred you might manage to take over one party or the other, but they’ll deprive it of money. I won’t say you don’t have a shot, but you won’t have an easy time.

Hence, Trump. He doesn’t need Wall Street money and doesn’t need Conservatism, Inc.’s money or advisors. Yet, you seem to be working against him as well…

#20 Comment By Anglospherical On February 4, 2016 @ 12:08 am

Scott McConnell asks “In a triangular race between two Cubans and an Anglo, I wonder if any voters would lean towards the Anglo subconsciously, without even wondering why.”

It would be quite conscious in the case of this Anglo. Cruz is ineligible becasue he wasn’t born in America. Rubio is suspect because of his ties to shady Cuban expats and a roster of donors pushing the interests of other foreign powers, mainly Israel.

#21 Comment By Fabian On February 4, 2016 @ 10:04 am

Hard realism I’m afraid. But Hillary must lose and too bad for those who’ll get bombed away (and our troops maimed in the process, which will happen with Hillary anyway).

#22 Comment By Trumpertarian On February 4, 2016 @ 12:47 pm

The neocons and other establishment Republicans can push that punk Rubio all they want, but ultimately if the votes simply aren’t there for him they can’t make him stick any more than Jeb! Bush. The fact is that Trump did extraordinarily well in Iowa considering that the Iowa GOP has been heavily evangelical for some time now. His momentum everywhere else does not appear to be letting up any time soon—he’s got 15-20 point leads in the polls in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and yes, even Florida. Trump’s been underrated all along but he just keeps gaining momentum.

“Flesh-and-blood politics” indeed.

#23 Comment By Second Thoughts On February 4, 2016 @ 3:36 pm

Why they would want a Cuban American edition of Romney is beyond me, unless the whole idea is to lose to Hillary so that they get the foreign policy they want AND the right to whine about it, like with Obama …

#24 Comment By Michael Verkuylen On February 8, 2016 @ 12:37 pm

As an independent, I dont like Rubio, Cruz, after reading about him, scares the shine off my shoes, the only other viable option is Trump.

Rubio and Cruz are so close to the “keep neo’s in power movement” neither should even be considered. We all “know” about Trump the business man. I really dont know if he is conservative or even right thinking in conservative terms.

I like his apolitical correctness, I like his immigration stance, I like his sense of nationalism, I like his stance on what it will take to get America on its feet on every level.

BUT, and it a very big but. Is it all talk like the rest of these politicians?

Your point of view would be welcomed.