Sometimes my “Spidey sense” is pretty good. Way back in September of 2011, I warned that then-Texas Gov. “Rick Perry should take his immigration problem very seriously.” I similarly warned that “Bridge-gate” looked like a very serious problem for Chris Christie, during the early part of that scandal. I think I was ahead of the curve in realizing how dangerous these situations were.
Not everything is documentable. Early on, I remember casually bringing up concerns with Rubio folks about his championing of immigration reform. While I always thought it was a profile in courage, the politics were always going to be dicey. This is cynical, but wouldn’t it haven been smarter for Rubio to just be “for” immigration reform in the abstract — but to always find some excuse for why any given bill just “wasn’t good enough”? He could then have argued that he was the only person who could actually pass real immigration reform (only he could secure the border!) and then make that a central argument for his presidential election.
I mean, if Rubio’s “our” Obama, then why not take a page from Senator Obama’s legislative track record — which was, frankly, more sagacious than courageous — and avoid sticking your neck out or trying to actually, you know, do something in the Senate? Bottom line: I don’t think Rubio fully understood just how dangerous the immigration reform issue was — just like I don’t think Perry fully appreciated that back in 2011.
… Which brings me to the latest concern about Rubio.
During Thursday night’s debate, I might have been the first to spot him getting needlessly pinned down on the abortion issue. As I’ve long argued, the pro-life side wins when the discussion is about late-term abortions, but loses when it’s about things like “legitimate rape,” “transvaginal ultrasounds,” etc.
Yet, here — on the heels of the Planned Parenthood videos about harvesting the organs of babies! — we had Rubio talking about opposing exceptions in the case of rape. I was stunned:
Now, the immediate (and superficial) observation was that, Aha!, Rubio had contradicted himself. … He told Megyn Kelly that he didn’t support exceptions, but he had backed a bill that included them. This game of “gotcha” was fun for people who were playing small ball and missed the long-term implications. Rubio’s support for exceptions did not preclude his support for other bills that lack exceptions. As Rubio said on Meet the Press, “I’ll support any legislation that reduces the number of abortions.”
The real problem, of course, was that Hillary Clinton could now run an ad saying that: “Marco Rubio wants to deny you the right to choose, even in the case of rape!” — and not really be lying.
A couple of points: First, as I have said numerous times, Rubio is probably the Republican who is best positioned to beat Hillary Clinton. The contrast is so clear. If “experience” and accomplishment won elections, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama wouldn’t have defeated George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, and John McCain. So Rubio wins on almost every contrast, including energy, authenticity, and ideas.
That’s why it is especially worrisome that he would open himself up to the predictable “war on women” attacks.
Let’s be honest, this is basically the best card Hillary will have to play.
Second, just as I thought Rubio was courageous in tackling immigration, I think this is yet another incredibly dangerous profile in courage for Rubio. If you believe that life begins at conception and that abortion is murder, then allowing for exceptions is somewhat incoherent. It’s a political compromise. As I explained a while ago:
When Republican politicians first adopted the pro-life cause, they knew the media and the culture would be hostile to them. This led to narrowly crafting their messaging — to allowing for exceptions for rape and incest and the life of the mother. Now, the problem is that these exceptions are intellectually inconsistent with the notion that life is precious and that abortion is murder. (For this reason, hard core activists never liked exceptions, but mostly tolerated the politicians, for a time, assuming they would be an incremental step toward further restrictions.) Exceptions were pragmatic and politically salable, and probably saved the lives of many unborn children. Moving away from these exceptions is more intellectually consistent, but also much less popular with the general public — especially once technology changes the definition of what constitutes an “abortion.” Politics is messy.
In fairness, the morning after the debate, Rubio went on CNN and very eloquently made the case that “all human life is worthy of protection, irrespective of the circumstances in which that human life was created.” This is an utterly defensible and coherent point to make. And, unlike, say Richard Mourdock, Rubio is rhetorically equipped to make this case in the most eloquent and persuasive manner possible.
But here’s the question: Why is he making it? Why are we talking about rape exceptions? Why aren’t we talking about Planned Parenthood harvesting and selling the organs of babies??? My argument is that when you’re talking about rape exceptions, you’re playing on the other team’s turf. Let’s get around to worrying about debating this somewhat rare occurrence after we stop them from killing 20-week-old babies for the sake of convenience.
In a recent interview, Sen. Ted Cruz said his “greatest weakness” was “Being willing to take on the Washington Cartel.” This is like going to a job interview and saying you’re biggest weakness is that you work too hard or are just too courageous for your own good.
In the case of Marco Rubio, it just might be true.
* Note: The author’s wife advises Rick Perry and previously consulted for Ted Cruz for Senate.