Marco Rubio is being attacked on all sides: The Florida senator is considered a front-runner worth undermining.

Marco Rubio Is Now Everyone’s Favorite Target

Marco Rubio Is Now Everyone’s Favorite Target

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Nov. 10 2015 2:47 PM

Marco Rubio Is Now Everyone’s Favorite Target

The Florida senator is about to get squeezed from all sides. 

Republican Presidential candidate Marco Rubio.
Watch out, Marco! Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Good news for Sen. Marco Rubio: The dastardly liberal mainstream media, which you so profess to despise when it asks pointed questions about your tax plan, has determined that you are the man to beat for the Republican presidential nomination. Since the media is always correct in its political prognostications, we might as well give you the nomination now to spare the Republican Party the costs associated with a lengthy primary process. Can we do that? No … I’m hearing that no, we cannot do that. You’re going to have to go through the motions after all.

Jim Newell Jim Newell

Jim Newell is a Slate staff writer.

And that’s going to be a decidedly not-fun process for Rubio. Prepare yourself, (relatively) young man, for the big squeeze: shots from both your rivals in the “establishment” lane and your down-the-road competitors in the conservative lane. On top of that, the worst smear a prospective Republican nominee can face: bear hugs from leading Democratic officials.

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Remember Jeb Bush? Dad was president, brother too, now he wants the gig, lots of money? He still thinks he can win the nomination, but first he has to win back his own lane from his fellow Floridian. The way that’s achieved, theoretically, is not through Bush himself. (He’s not good at that. He’s really bad at it. Dear God, Jeb: If you try to clumsily attack Rubio face to face again in tonight’s debate, you should drop out yesterday.) It’s through his famous $100 million super PAC that famously doesn’t spend anything to prop up its lousy candidate.

That’s going to change soon. Mike Murphy, head of Bush’s Right to Rise super PAC, “has privately said to several people that Right to Rise would be ready to devote up to $20 million to fighting Mr. Rubio,” the New York Times reports, helpfully cluing in the official Bush campaign to its strategy. And what are the particulars of this killing? As something of an amuse-bouche, Right to Rise “has filmed a provocative video casting his rival Marco Rubio as ultimately unelectable because of his hard-line stand against abortion.” Murphy is aware that this is a Republican primary, no? What else? “That group, which has raised more than $100 million, has asked voters in New Hampshire how they feel about Mr. Rubio’s skipping important votes in the Senate.” Not exactly a deathblow. In any case, expect Right to Rise to get its act together soon enough and air all sorts of whispery #content about how Rubio murdered half of Fort Lauderdale with steak knives while he was on a synthetic-pot bender.

Speaking of this very same Rubio who doesn’t allow any emergency exceptions to his pro-life stance and, according to Heritage Action’s “scorecard,” is the fifth–most conservative senator with a 93 percent rating: He’s actually “moderate.” Did you know that? Perhaps he would be in comparison with the one who’s launched that “attack”: Sen. Ted Cruz, the conservative teacher’s pet whom Heritage rates at 100 percent.

Cruz is paired alongside Rubio in the conventional wisdom machine’s latest project of which two candidates the race will come down to. Though Rubio will first have to dispatch Bush, Gov. Chris Christie, and Gov. John Kasich, and Cruz will have to gently persuade voters that Ben Carson and Donald Trump are obviously and ridiculously unqualified to be president, the CW here seems to be well-grounded. Cruz isn’t going hard after Rubio just yet, though he is laying the groundwork.

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“Cruz and his allies have begun zeroing in on Rubio,” BloombergPolitics reports. Like Bush, Cruz will likely outsource to his super PACs the rumors about how Rubio hides his 97 illegitimate children under the stands of the Daytona International Speedway. What Cruz himself will do, though, is call Rubio the single worst word in the Republican primary lexicon. “As I look at the race,” Cruz, per BloombergPolitics, said on CNN last week, “historically, there have been two major lanes in the Republican primary. There’s been a moderate lane and a conservative lane. … I think the Jeb campaign seems to view Marco as his biggest threat in the moderate lane.” This is an accurate summation of the race, though moderate is hardly the word Rubio wants to have thrown in his direction. Responsible or palatable or general election–ready lane is more like it. Not moderate. Anything but that. It’s still amazing to witness what support for a center-right comprehensive immigration reform bill that would have doubled the number of patrol agents on the southern border does to one’s conservative branding.

Moderate or not, that’s how Rubio’s being defined, and that terrifies the Democratic Party. Exhibit A in that regard is the roughly 50 million ALERT and BACKGROUND and HE SAID WHAT? emails sent from Democratic communications groups to every political reporter over the last few weeks. It’s all very ham-handed. At least figures like Sen. Chuck Schumer, Senate Democrats’ leader-in-waiting, understand that the best way to damn Rubio’s ability to capture the nomination is to say marvelous things about him and his masterful work in drafting the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill.

Schumer, appearing on CNN late last week, couldn’t stop gushing about the value Rubio brought to the Gang of Eight. “He was not only totally committed—he was in that room with us, four Democrats, four Republicans,” Schumer said. “His fingerprints are all over that bill. It has a lot of Rubio imprints.” My goodness, did he ever write a great amnesty bill, just loaded with one amnesty after another amnesty. “He understood it, he molded it, he made it a tough path to citizenship,” Schumer went on about Rubio’s absolute love of amnesty. “But we all agreed to it, and it would have to be a tough path to citizenship. But he was all for it.” For the amnesty, he means. Rubio was “all for” the amnesty. It is his favorite thing, amnesty.

It’s about to get real, Marco.