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The Continuing Woes of the “Establishment”

We shouldn't discount the effect of personal animus and bitterness when thinking about what these candidates may do.

Noah Berlatsky thinks I’m overly confident that the “establishment” candidates will continue squabbling among themselves after New Hampshire:

Larison’s hope for the establishment’s fall is based not on Trump or Cruz or any outsider, but on the dream that boring establishment candidates will suddenly transform into mavericks, acting against the interests of the Party.

I appreciate the response, and I’ll concede up front that I was overstating Kasich’s desire to stick around if he doesn’t do well on Tuesday. His campaign has always been a New Hampshire-centric one, and anything less than second place for him there probably would be a signal to throw in the towel. However, Kasich has said that his campaign will continue unless he gets “smoked” in New Hampshire, and that implies that he might very well stick around for a while if he has a good result. Bush still has the resources and the incredible sense of entitlement that led him to enter the race in the first place, and he seems more determined to continue than Kasich. Bush said earlier this week, “That message will resonate and I’m in it for the long-haul.” Christie probably will drop out after next week unless he has a completely unexpected revival in the next few days, but otherwise I don’t foresee the mass exodus that Rubio is counting on.

One problem with Berlatsky’s objection is the conceit that the other “establishment” candidates accept that withdrawing from the race to clear the way for Rubio is in the “interests of the party.” Both Bush and Christie have dismissed this idea as absurd or silly. Another is that it overlooks the intense personal resentment Rubio seems to have inspired among some of these candidates. Christie is the most vocal in his disdain for the junior senator from Florida, but it’s an open secret that Bush and his allies are also furious with Rubio. We shouldn’t discount the effect of personal animus and bitterness when thinking about what these candidates may do.

If his “establishment” rivals resent Rubio enough, they may not be thinking about “the interests of the party” or they may believe that they are serving the party’s best interests by opposing someone they don’t think is ready to be president. I have occasionally joked that the determination of Bush and his allies to bring Rubio down sometimes seems Captain Ahab-like, because it seems so destructive to Bush’s own reputation. Even if it’s not that intense, it doesn’t make sense to assume that Bush is simply going to give up so that Rubio has a better shot as a nomination that he and his allies thought was his. I think people that expect Bush to give up easily are also forgetting how petty and vindictive the Bush family can be toward their rivals when they want to be.

The larger point I was making in my post about the woes of the “establishment” is that it has already taken too long to consolidate the “establishment” vote. The four-way split in New Hampshire has done plenty of damage to the chances of any of the “establishment” candidates to win anywhere else. If that split disappeared next Wednesday, it wouldn’t be sufficient to salvage Rubio’s bad campaign strategy. There aren’t enough supporters of these candidates to stop Trump and Cruz before it really is too late in mid-March, and by then it won’t matter that Rubio is the last “establishment” man standing. In short, the people rooting for the “establishment” candidates have a serious problem even if Kasich and Bush give up next week.



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