Judging from pundits and partisans on both sides of the Trump vs. #NeverTrump divide, the race for the GOP nomination may be decided once and for all over the course of the next seven days. At least some Republican Party leaders have already thrown in the towel. “It’s too little, too late,” one unnamed GOP official said to Politico concerning the latest flurry of activity aimed at denying Donald Trump the nomination.
Trump’s looming victory, or merely the prospect of it, means that the window is fast closing on the neoconservative establishment’s efforts to secure the GOP nomination for its favorite son: Marco Rubio. If the Florida senator fails to win his home state next week, the neocons will be forced to look elsewhere. Many are likely to jump ship entirely, throwing their support to Hillary Clinton, a move that will have profound repercussions long after the final votes are cast in election 2016.
Rubio’s struggles reveal the limits of the neocon’s political acumen. Meanwhile, their willingness to attack the GOP front-runner—and to switch party loyalties entirely if they don’t get their way—reveals the limits of their never-strong commitment to the GOP.
Many factors explain Rubio’s inability to win support beyond the Washington Beltway, but lack of funding isn’t one of them. According to the New York Times , as of late last month Rubio’s own campaign and various PACs had raised at least $84.6 million, and spent nearly $61.1 million. And the Hill reported that the PACs behind the anti-Trump movement, including the American Future Fund and the Club for Growth, would spend over $3.25 million in Florida in the coming week. Meanwhile, the pro-Rubio “Conservative Solutions PAC” has reportedly received an infusion of $10 million.
But as with other well-funded candidates (see e.g. Jeb Bush), the voters’ deep anti-establishment sentiment has so far been unaffected by the establishment’s prodigious spending. If anything, it has made it worse. That Rubio is failing even in his home state suggests the depths of the public’s sour mood.
And yet, with his back against the wall, Rubio has gone to the establishment well once again, unveiling a new foreign policy advisory council populated chiefly by refugees from other failed campaigns. The move doesn’t merely reveal the limits of Rubio’s imagination; it also laid bare the extent to which the GOP foreign policy apparatus relies on the neoconservative network that begat the Iraq war and its ignominious aftermath.
Rubio’s campaign slogan, A New American Century, is lifted from the name of the neoconservative think tank founded in 1997 by Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan: The Project for a New American Century. Eliot Cohen, one of the organizers of the Stop Trump open letter , signed eight of thirteen PNAC open letters, including its original Statement of Principles. PNAC quietly disbanded in 2006 or 2007, but reemerged as the Foreign Policy Initiative , founded and populated by some of the leaders of PNAC (Kagan and Kristol both serve on its board of directors). Jamie Fly, Rubio’s chief national security advisor, was FPI’s executive director from 2009 until early 2013.
Concerning Rubio’s latest effort to surround himself with more GOP establishment voices, Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin sounded a skeptical note :
“Rubio’s late push on foreign policy may not save his campaign. Polls show that foreign policy is among the top concerns of voters, but Republican voters clearly favor outsiders over the establishment this cycle.”
The editors of Florida’s Sun Sentinel agreed. Refusing to endorse any of the remaining four GOP candidates, the editors observed, “Rubio's strongest suit appears to be foreign policy, but his neoconservative views should give voters pause.” They were particularly alarmed that Rubio would “so cavalierly roll the dice” on a “war with Russia,” the likely outcome of his proposal for a no-fly zone over Syria that would take down Russian jets. They concluded, harshly, “Rubio lacks the experience, work ethic and gravitas needed to be president.”
In short, what the neocons see as one of Rubio's key selling points (beyond his good looks and ability to deliver sound bites) may be his main vulnerability.
Rubio's supporters claim that he's more electable in a general election, pointing to his relative youth, inspiring personal story and telegenic visage. But Rubio is a mere six months younger than Ted Cruz, and he's hardly the last man standing who can point to humble roots . Meanwhile, there is a fine line between "looks good on TV" and "empty suit," a line that Rubio appears to have crossed in the minds of many voters after his disastrous Rubio-bot moment in the final debate before the New Hampshire primary. Pre-debate polls showed Rubio poised to do well after his expectation-busting third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. The fresh face allegedly had #Marcomomentum on his side. Instead, he finished a disappointing fifth, with just over 10 percent of the vote. He has since managed to win only two of twenty contests.