“Safety School” Jeb! Channels Lamar!

One of the major questions in the GOP presidential nominating contest is whether, when and to what extent Jeb Bush uses his vast Super-PAC dollars to go after his Florida buddy Marco Rubio with a claw hammer. It’s been obvious for a good long while that Rubio is an existential threat to Bush’s ambitions, especially if it becomes plausible that the youngster could beat Jeb in the March 15 winner-take-all Florida primary, which might effectively knock the former governor of that state right out of the race. But unless Bush has something really juicy on Rubio–like, you know, he bounced a whole bunch of checks at a Miami liquor store back in the day–hitting him too hard and too singularly might backlash among Republicans who aren’t sold on Jeb’s potential for winning the nomination or a general election. So for now, here’s Bush’s big attack line on his junior senator, per RCP’s Caitlin Huey-Burns:

This week, Bush sharpened his attacks, joining Trump in going after Rubio’s poor attendance record on votes. Rubio has defended his absences by arguing that constituent service and committee work matter more than time spent on the chamber floor. But a Politico report in July revealed the senator had missed several high-profile votes and hearings while on the campaign trail.

During a campaign stop in Iowa, Bush argued for docking lawmakers’ pay when they are absent. It’s a policy he has pushed for a while on the campaign trail, but it was clear this time he was pointing at his rival. “This idea that somehow voting isn’t important — I mean what are they supposed to do?” Bush said. “They should go to the committee hearings, they should vote.”

I may be wrong, but this “policy” is reminiscent of Lamar! Alexander’s “cut their pay and send them home” tag line in his 1996 presidential campaign, which seemed similarly based on the belief anti-Washington sentiment could be whipped up into a populist hate-frenzy by the realization that members of Congress are being paid for bad or no performance. Maybe Bush got it from some think tank for presidential candidates with exclamation points in their slogans or something. If Jeb starts wearing a plaid shirt on the campaign trail, we’ll know for sure.

All kidding aside, I don’t think this is going to do any serious damage to Rubio. But what’s Jeb to do? His status among Establishment Republicans was brilliantly captured in a phrase in Huey-Burns’ piece:

Rubio has got himself that seat at the table,” says one GOP strategist in Iowa. Voters interested in candidates in that mold “know Jeb is going to be there, he’s like the safety school, but there’s now this notion of ‘Let’s see if this young guy Rubio is the real deal.’”

“He’s like the safety school!” Yep, GOPers know they can always go there if all else fails, but they really want something better for themselves. And that’s among the segment of the party that doesn’t consider him the RINO brother and son of two RINO presidents and a stone general election disaster as well.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.