Well before voters begin weighing in on the Republican presidential nominating contest, GOP opinion-leaders — and sometimes the candidates themselves — are saying some pretty nasty things about candidates who are doing mighty well in the polls.
This phenomenon is most heavily associated with one Donald Trump, who was called by former candidate Bobby Jindal (who turned out to be a “loser,” of course) an “egomaniacal madman.” He’s also provoked ads from John Kasich that hint not very subtly that the Donald is a mite fascist-y. And a whole industry of commentary has grown up around drastic measures the GOP might have to take if Trump is the nominee. The long-rumored super-pac ad assault on the tycoon as an ideological heretic and as Hillary Clinton’s secret weapon may or may not actually take place, but if it does it will enrich the already abundant pantry of words that will have to be eaten by Republicans if their fears come true and Trump raises his hands in triumph in Cleveland next summer.
But as the campaign of Ted Cruz, hated in some Establishment circles even more than Trump, gains altitude, he’s getting some nasty-grams as well. Just today, Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, who is about the most certain general-election GOP supporter this side of Reince Priebus himself, referred to Cruz as an “extraordinary liar.” Knowing Rubin, she will repeat and sharpen this characterization of the Texas senator, along with other attempted assassinations of his character, record, and electability, on a very regular basis. But should Cruz defeat Marco Rubio, there is zero doubt Rubin will instantly begin describing Cruz’s election as an ontological necessity compared to the ongoing nightmare of a Hillary Clinton administration.
This pattern of intraparty vitriol that is eventually forgotten is all too common in American politics, and seems especially, though not uniquely, acceptable to Republicans (in this cycle, so far at least, Democrats have avoided significant recriminations, and even the seething disdain the 2008 campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had for each other rarely broke through the surface into public commentary). One example from March 2012 I noticed at the time was a press release from Rick Santorum’s campaign that barely induced a yawn from a jaded political commentariat:
Just saw this tweet from Rick Santorum: “Real World Versus Romney World: Romney Destroyed Massachusetts Manufacturing.” It linked to a press release with the same title, composed of two news items about a reported 12% loss of manufacturing jobs in the Bay State during Mitt’s governorship.
Santorum was clearly building on the earlier work of Newt Gingrich’s super-pac, which created and distributed an entire movie (The King of Bain) accusing Romney of killing off whole communities in South Carolina with his cartoon-villain advice to businesses there as a management consultant. But still, if Rick Santorum really believed Mitt Romney had destroyed manufacturing in his own state, wouldn’t that pretty much require a permanent vendetta against Romney? Yet within weeks Santorum was endorsing Romney after a meeting during which “I was impressed with the governor’s deep understanding of this connection and his commitment to economic policies that preserve and strengthen families.” Guess he promised not to destroy manufacturing any place else, eh? For that matter, the man who paid for The King of Bain, Sheldon Adelson, eventually became one of the top contributors to Romney’s super-pac, despite all of the terrible things Mitt did to those poor working-class schmoes in South Carolina.
So we may predict with some confidence that most of the Republicans lambasting Trump and Cruz will eat their words if either of these gents wins the nomination. It’s probably too late for Bobby Jindal to secure a cabinet post in a hypothetical Trump administration, but short of that, few bridges have really been burned.