A Guide to 2016 Candidates Trash-Talking Each Other

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Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/GettyImages

While technically they’re just “exploring” a presidential run, the recent entry of Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney into the 2016 race has sparked a new phase in the already interminably long campaign. Likely candidates are sniping at each other more and more, though they tend to stop just short of a remark that could prematurely spark an all-out feud. The exception is Rand Paul, who’s been lashing out at potential rivals for years and once lamented that the use of dueling pistols has fallen out of favor. Here’s an early peek at the 2016 candidates’ burn book, in case you can’t wait for Paul to photocopy the pages and throw them all over the halls of the Capitol Building.

Mitt Romney: While Romney has had plenty of negative things to say about Hillary Clinton, he’s yet to openly bash any of his potential GOP rivals. However, in a way his entire candidacy is a jab at the Republican field. Politico reported last month that he was unimpressed by those running, and sources claim he privately declared Jeb Bush’s business dealings were a problem. “You saw what they did to me with Bain [Capital],” he reportedly said. “What do you think they’ll do to [Bush] over Barclays?”

Jeb Bush: Bush has been even more reserved than Romney, but he’s taken a few swipes at Hillary Clinton. At a fund-raiser in Greenwich, Connecticut, this month, Bush reportedly said, “If someone wants to run a campaign about ‘90s nostalgia, it’s not going to be very successful.” And a few months ago, he knocked Clinton over the gaffe, “Don’t let anybody tell you that it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs.”

Rand Paul: If you’re thinking of running in 2016 and Rand Paul hasn’t bothered to attack you, that’s a bad sign. He started feuding with Chris Christie way back in 2013, dubbing him the “king of bacon.” More recently, he taunted Marco Rubio on Twitter, and had a Reagan-off with Rick Perry in the nation’s op-ed pages. “If Gov. Perry decides to run for president, I think there are three good reasons he could be president: Texas is a big successful state, he’s a long term governor. I can’t remember the third one,” Paul joked in an interview last summer.

The Kentucky senator was quick to pounce on Jeb Bush. Hours after he announced he was exploring a 2016 run, Paul bought a Google search ad on his name and commented on Fox News, “For Jeb Bush to run in the primary will be very, very difficult.”

Paul was at it again this week. On Monday he told a Fox News radio interviewer that Mitt Romney is “yesterday’s news. “If [Romney] runs to the right of Jeb Bush, he’ll still be to the left of the rest of the party, so it may be a difficult spot to occupy,” Paul said. Then on Tuesday he lashed out at his two newest rivals in an interview with Politico. “You need a candidate who reaches out to new constituencies and is able to bring new people into the party,” Paul said. “Because if we do the same old, same old candidates, we are going to get the same old result.” Specifically, Romney “could have been a good leader of the country. But I think many people are going to say, ‘He’s had his chance.’” As for Bush, he’s “a Big Government Republican who believes more things should be occurring in Washington rather than decentralization.”

He hasn’t forgotten about the Democratic front-runner either. Paul has trashed Hillary Clinton on numerous occasions, from creating a “Hillary’s Losers” Election Night meme to suggesting on Meet the Press that Democrats are hypocrites for talking about a “war on women” in light of Bill Clinton’s “predatory behavior” toward Monica Lewinsky.

Ted Cruz: While Cruz insisted he’s a “big fan” of Jeb Bush, he suggested he’d hand the 2016 election to Hillary Clinton. “If we nominate another candidate in the mold of a Bob Dole or a John McCain or a Mitt Romney — and let me be clear, all three of those men, they’re good men, they’re honorable men, they’re decent men, they’re men of character, they’re war heroes — but what they did didn’t work,” Cruz said in December. “It did not succeed. And if we nominate another candidate in that same mold, the same voters who stayed home in 2008 and 2012 will stay home in 2016, and Hillary Clinton is the next president.”

He was less complimentary when asked about Romney’s chances on Monday. “There are some who believe that a path to Republican victory is to run to the mushy middle, is to blur distinctions,” Cruz told Politico. “I think recent history has shown us, that’s not a path to success. It doesn’t work. It’s a failed electoral strategy. I very much agree with President Ronald Reagan that the way we win is by painting with bold colors and not pale pastels and I think that’s gonna be a debate Republicans are gonna have over the next two years.”

Scott Walker: After poking fun at Chris Christie literally and figuratively embracing another state’s football team on Twitter, the Wisconsin governor slipped another crack into his state of the state address on Tuesday. “I had plenty of fun hugging owners in the stands at Lambeau Field,” Walker said.

Some interpreted Jeb Bush’s decision to release every email from his two terms as Florida’s governor as an attack on Walker and the similarly scandal-plagued New Jersey governor. But when asked about Bush last month, Walker called him a “friend” and a “good guy” and said the move “doesn’t affect me one way or another.”

Chris Christie: Weirdly, Christie has refrained from lashing out at potential rivals in recent weeks, even in light of the football-related ribbing from Walker and Paul Ryan (who said this week that he’s decided not to run in 2016). What Bridgegate has done to this once-legendary yeller is truly sad.

Marco Rubio: In the introduction to his new book, Rubio declares, “Another Clinton presidency would be a death blow to the American Dream.” However, he’s lagging behind when it comes to attacking fellow Republicans. In April Rubio said he’ll either run for reelection to the Senate or for the presidency, because, “I think by and large when you choose to do something as big as [running for president], you’ve really got to be focused on that and not have an exit strategy.” That was a jab at Rand Paul, but just barely.

Rick Santorum: In a mostly unsuccessful plea for attention, the former Pennsylvania senator went after several potential 2016 rivals in an interview with the New York Times last weekend. Santorum attacked Mike Huckabee for being insufficiently conservative, and said of Cruz, Paul, and Rubio, “Do we really want somebody who’s a bomb thrower, with no track record of any accomplishments?” The fact that Santorum has not held elected office since 2006 and was throwing bombs at fellow Republicans did not go unnoticed.