In the wake of Donald Trump mocking him with a bottle of water last Friday, Marco Rubio decided to engage in some gutter fighting of his own.
During a Saturday rally in Roanoke, Virginia — one of the 12 states involved in today’s Super Tuesday contests — the usually mild-mannered Rubio deployed a dick joke against Trump.
After ridiculing Trump for allegedly using spray tan — “Donald is not going to make American great, he’s going to make America orange” — Rubio broke out an insult worthy of a high school playground.
“He’s always calling me ‘little Marco,’ and I’ll admit he’s taller than me — he’s like 6–2, which is why I don’t understand why his hands are the size of someone who’s 5–2,” Rubio said. “And you know what they say about men with small hands… You can’t trust ‘em.”
It turns out there’s social science supporting Rubio’s decision to focus on going after Trump’s character instead of the issues. A new Democracy Corps survey of 800 Republican base voters tested a variety of ways to go after Trump, and the most effective ones weren’t those criticizing his controversial policy positions. Instead, as Stanley Greenberg and James Carville write, the most damaging attacks proved to be those “centered on [Trump’s] character and leadership qualities: that he is an ego-maniac at the expense of the country, that he is disrespectful towards women, and that he cannot be trusted to keep the country safe and handle our nuclear weapons.”
Part of the reason for that is because there isn’t much daylight between the Republican candidates and base GOP voters on the core issues — while there are disagreements with regard to social issues and gun rights, polling indicates they’re almost universally worried about illegal immigration, hostile toward the Affordable Care Act, and don’t believe President Obama respects the Constitution.
“That is what Donald Trump understands,” a summary of the study, entitled “The GOP Civil War & Its Opportunities,” says. “The conventional conservative views on national defense, regulation, markets and taxes just are not that important at the moment… Immigration is the animating issue that organizes GOP base thinking more than any other.”
Last fall, Jeb Bush, referring to Trump, said, “I don’t see how over the long haul that you can insult your way to the nomination or the president — certainly not the presidency — and not the nomination either.” In a similar vein, John Kasich has decried “the name-calling and what I consider to be childishness” that Rubio and Trump are using against each other.
But Bush didn’t make it to Super Tuesday, and Kasich’s campaign is barely a blip on the political radar at this point. In short, there’s a good reason why Rubio has switched tactics and now finds himself down in Trump’s gutter making dick jokes.
As Rubio’s senior adviser Todd Harris told the New York Times, “We came to the conclusion that if being a part of the circus is the price you have to pay in order for us to ultimately be able to talk about substantive policy, then that’s what we’re going to do.” But that’s the dilemma — in order to advance to get to a position where he can talk policy during the general election, Rubio has to beat Trump in the GOP primary. But new polling released Tuesday as people head to the polls indicates Rubio isn’t having much success playing Trump’s game.