The Republican field in the past week — other than the three candidates who officially dropped out, all of whom did so with class and decency — has turned into a nattering chorus of petty and whiny also-rans, either griping about how unfair political life is or swinging wildly at candidates doing better than they.
What the whiners ought to be doing, rather than act like sore losers on a grade-school playground, is to talk about issues and ideas, and about how to inspire the American people toward better times.
The targets of the pettiness have been Iowa success stories Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Even before the caucuses Jeb Bush was saying the two young senators are “two people that are backbenchers who have never done anything of consequence in their lives.” Really, Jeb? Your own protégé whom you pushed into the Florida House speakership, and who authored what is so far the only successful big nick against Obamacare (and who has said nary a bad word about you), has “never done anything of consequence”?
After Iowa, Bush piled on, mocking Rubio and the media for acting as if Rubio’s third-place finish there was a victory. So said the guy whose affiliated SuperPAC spent well upwards of $10 million attacking Rubio, only to see Bush earn less than one-eighth as many votes as his fellow Floridian (as FiveThirtyEight reported, Bush’s spent roughly $25,000 per vote).
Chris Christie’s whininess was even worse, even nasty. Trying as usual to act like a tough guy, he acted as if Rubio somehow hasn’t been in the fray, calling the Florida senator a “boy in the bubble.” That’s rich, coming from a governor who has barely been attacked by other campaigns (other than that of the long-gone Bobby Jindal), while the candidate he’s attacking has suffered $23 million in negative ads against him from all comers.
Rather than act like sore losers on a grade-school playground, candidates should talk about issues and ideas, and about how to inspire the American people toward better times
Then there was Ben Carson calling a press conference to complain about Cruz’s somewhat misleading email to caucus captains that could be read, between the lines, to be suggesting Carson would soon withdraw from the race. But once he got into the presser, Carson tried to make it sound as if he wanted to move on, but that it was the media trying to pit candidates against each other like gladiators in an arena. Neat trick: Call a press conference to complain while saying you’re not the one complaining.
But of course, nobody could top Donald Trump for over-the-top sour-grapeness. The surprise loser of the Iowa evening went so far as to demand a re-vote vote in the Hawkeye State or, barring that, a disqualification of all Cruz’s votes, on the grounds that Cruz supposedly “stole” the election. “If you think about it, I really finished first,” Trump claimed to a crowd in Little Rock.
Yeah, right — and when Muhammad Ali knocked Sonny Liston to the canvas, it was really Liston who was the victor.
All of this is a sorry spectacle. It contrasts with the dignified exits of candidates Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul and Rick Santorum, with Santorum also offering an entirely positive endorsement for Rubio with nary a bad word about anybody. While Republicans should of course want candidates who don’t like to lose, they surely don’t want candidates who don’t know how to take a loss.
Forgive the old-fashioned use of gender images, but there was a time when real men would move on from a loss with gracious fortitude. Think of golfer Jack Nicklaus smilingly congratulating rivals Lee Trevino and Tom Watson when they broke his heart with unlikely chip-ins, and you get the picture of how setbacks ought to be handled.
Think how much better for the country it would be — and, for that matter, how much more useful for their own political fortunes — if Bush or Christie, rather than sniping, had acted with dignity instead.
“Wow,” Bush could have said. “My old friend Marco really took it to us in Iowa. I congratulate him. I still think I’m the better candidate, though, so now it’s up to me to do a better job of proving it. I need to redouble my efforts to inspire voters. Here’s what I want them to understand; here’s my vision.”
While Republicans should of course want candidates who don’t like to lose, they surely don’t want candidates who don’t know how to take a loss
And then he could, and should, actually give a compelling case for another Bush presidency. Does anybody yet know, really, what Bush’s key issues are, or why he is uniquely able to push them? Does he have a new solution to a problem as bold as, say, Jack Kemp’s revolutionary supply-side tax cuts? As a former governor and former head of a think tank, will he lead the way in finally making good on Republican promises to devolve authority to states and local governments — while adopting at the national level creative policies proven successful in state laboratories of democracy?
Or, as a well-known bilingualist with a Mexican-born wife, could he promote a better means of culturally assimilating, and encouraging English-language use among Spanish-speaking immigrants who come here legally?
How about Christie? Other than his tough-guy record as a former prosecutor, what does he offer the American people? What new policies, ideas, or solutions is he pushing? Does he have any specific ideas as to how to reform the Justice Department? Does he have insights into the recent uptick in violent crime? And what about overcriminalization and prosecutorial abuse?
Give us ideas, not excuses; better messages, not cheap shots.
These candidates who so far have been also-rans are actually talented public servants. Too bad they aren’t showing it, or showing admirable character, right now.
Quin Hillyer is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. He is a 40-year veteran of conservative journalism and activism, now living in Mobile, Alabama. You can follow him on Twitter @QuinHillyer.