Rubio Takes Minnesota

by Heather Robinson

Marco Rubio won the Minnesota Republican caucus this evening – his first win in a bruising evening and primary season in which, though he has held pretty steady at third in the Republican field, he had yet to actually come in first.

For the past several days, Rubio has taken the fight to Donald Trump. In doing so, it seems to me, Rubio has taken on the mantle of leadership of the Republican Party. A few thoughts about this.

I feel a little like I did in seventh grade, watching the class nerd blow up at the meanest girl in Hebrew school, screaming, “Shut up Mandy!” When everyone stared at him in shock, he said, “Someone had to do it.”

As a political independent and a journalist, I take seriously the obligation to keep an open mind and not slam candidates out of personal bias. That said, some of the things Donald Trump has said and done in recent days are downright alarming.

Donald Trump has called for a “revision of libel laws” in this country – a frightful thought in a nation that  champions, for the world, the concept and value of freedom of speech. This value is probably the feature that most distinguishes the United States of America from any other nation that has ever existed in the history of the world, and yet the man who wants to “make America great again” doesn’t seem to respect this seminal part of America’s core identity. He has on numerous occasions issued veiled threats to reporters, and apparently routinely maligns the press at his rallies (very deeply ironic given that, in a sense, he owes the press his fame and therefore much of his success, and he has always used media effectively for his own ends).

The other day Trump, after a CNN reporter asked him three times to reject an endorsement from Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, declined to do so – then later blamed his failure on a malfunctioning earpiece.

At first I thought there was absolutely no way Trump could have possibly knowingly declined to reject the support of a Ku Klux Klansman. It’s so incredibly outrageous and wicked that the natural response is to think that Trump must have misunderstood, or have been misunderstood. Then, after Trump blamed his earpiece I realized that the incident reminded me of other Trump denials: his abusive, sexist slur against Megyn Kelly (after which he denied that was what he meant) and his ridiculing of a disabled reporter (which he subsequently denied doing). He has a pattern of being boldly mean, even abusive, and then bold faced denying the obvious intent behind the behavior, and expecting everyone to give him a pass. And, time and time again, his supporters do.

As someone who knows and loves a few Trump supporters, I think what is going on is not that they like his mean, bullying streak (at least the Trump supporters I know) – but that they respect other elements of his personality. Those elements include Trump’s business acumen (that they link to likelihood he could get things done as President), and his independence, or the fact that because of his great wealth he is less beholden to special interests than most politicians. Also, many of them believe Trump has the best chance among the Republican contenders to beat Hillary Clinton in a general election (not sure why they believe this as multiple polls show Rubio actually does better against her among the general electorate than Trump does).

But I do understand what some voters see in him: his independence and obvious skill at having built a fortune. It is impressive. I don’t think people’s support for Trump makes them chumps. But count me among those who believe that his emergence, and the massive following he has generated – who time and again forgive him some truly vicious statements and autocratic, un-American behavior (I’m talking about veiled threats toward reporters who simply ask tough questions and tacit acceptance of the endorsement of the KKK) – are disturbing.

There is some truth to Rubio’s line of attack: that Trump is, in a sense, a con artist.

It is literally true in terms of ventures like “Trump University.” It also contains truth in that many of Trump’s ideas, such as rounding up and deporting every illegal immigrant in the U.S., including children, and making Mexico pay for a wall, are unrealistic and impossible to implement. He is a smart enough man to know this, and yet he keeps repeating this hyperbole over and over to demagogue the crowds. And by the way, his statements reveal how little he thinks of some of his own supporters.

Anyway, Marco Rubio made a splash tonight in the Minnesota caucus, achieving a hard won victory after several days of attacking Trump, at times on substance, at times on style.

Someone had to stand up to the bully, and Rubio stepped up. It was long overdue. But better late than never.

As Rubio put it this week, “Why wouldn’t [Donald Trump] condemn the Ku Klux Klan? There is no room in the conservative movement and there is no room in the Republican Party for members of the Ku Klux Klan or racists like David Duke.”

Sounds like a winning, as opposed to a whining, message to me.


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