The three top Republicans vying for the nomination against Donald Trump took turns to declare their independence from the Establishment, even as two of them — Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. John Kasich — are in fact vying for the crown of Establishment choice to take on the front-running mogul.
Appearing at a Fox News town hall in Houston, Kasich, Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz each condemned Trump in absentia. Pleading a scheduling conflict, Trump chose to skip the gathering, which was hosted by his media arch-enemy Megyn Kelly. But they each blasted the anti-Establishment Trump by seeking to join him in the outsider lane, the place to be in an anti-insider year.
Rubio repeatedly insisted he had a conservative record and claimed that, in fact, the Establishment is after him!
“I’ve been hit by over $40 million of negative ads by Establishment money,” said Rubio, referencing the amount used by the pro-Bush PAC Right to Rise to take him down. “I’m as conservative as anyone running in this race,” he added. But he’s the type of conservative who can unite and expand the Party, Rubio insisted, sounding a lot like — an Establishment candidate.
Rubio said Trump, in fact, is not a conservative. “This is an important election. We aren’t going to allow the conservative movement to be defined by a nominee who isn’t a conservative,” said Rubio.
Meantime, the Establishment is after Kasich’s tail too, according to Kasich.
There have been calls in some quarters for him to drop out of the presidential race to allow voters to coalesce behind one non-Trump candidate. Kasich said those who are calling for him to suspend his campaign are from within the Beltway — that is, the Establishment.
Cruz, who truly is hated by the Establishment, reiterated his latest talking point that his campaign is the only one that can beat and has beaten Trump. But he acknowledged this primary election has been anything but ordinary. “There has never been a candidate like Donald Trump,” said Cruz. “But, I think he’s got a fairly low ceiling and a majority of Republicans don’t think he’s the right nominee.”
What’s more, Cruz honed in on why the billionaire businessman has been propped up by the media. “The mainstream media is using kid-gloves on Donald right now because they want him to be the nominee,” said Cruz. Cruz suggested that the media is heavily covering Trump so they can watch him crash and burn in the general election against their darling, Hillary Clinton.
So, get it? Only he can beat Trump, Trump is no more than a media creation, and Trump will lose to Hillary.
Cruz and Rubio touted their conservative credentials, pro-life records and support of limited government — platforms both candidates see as the antithesis of Trump.
Rubio went after Trump for his call to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country. “When you’re president of the United States you have an enormous megaphone,” said Rubio. “You get to set the agenda and the tone for the country. We already have a president that’s incredibly divisive. We should not be pitting and dividing Americans against each other.” However, in South Carolina, CBS News exit polling showed that 75 percent of voters supported Trump’s proposal on banning Muslims from entering the United States while only 23 percent opposed it.
All three candidates sought to convince Republican primary voters that they are the ones Democrats fear going into the general election — moreso than their competitor, Donald Trump.
Ben Carson, who trails badly behind the other three and is struggling to express a rationale for continuing his candidacy, also appeared at the forum. Looking for someone to blame for his political predicament, he found them — the Establishment.
“My thoughts are that the political Establishment, the pundits, like to think that they are in control. And it’s really we the people who should be in control,” he said. “And I believe there’s still a possibility that we can sort of break the spell that they have over the people.”