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December 16th, 2017

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Conservatives: Don't throw around 'Republican Obama' label lightly

Jonah Goldberg

By Jonah Goldberg

Published Feb. 6, 2016

"The Republican Obama."

That's the new hot attack on Sen. Marco Rubio. Ted Cruz leveled the epithet at Rubio just days before the Iowa caucuses, which is a little ironic since Cruz has been called the same thing in the past.

But the leader of the opposition to Rubio, at least when it comes to this line, is actually someone not in the race: Joe Scarborough, the normally affable host of MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

Contrary to all evidence, Scarborough has denied he has an unhealthy obsession with his fellow Floridian. But given Scarborough's near-relentless denigration of Rubio, objective viewers might wonder if Rubio had run over Scarborough's dog or toilet-papered his house one Halloween night in junior high school.

On Thursday morning's show, Scarborough launched into an extended tirade about the best ways for other Republicans to attack Rubio. Sounding a bit like an armchair general who can't wait any longer to be asked his opinion, Scarborough declared, "He is the Republican Obama. And he really is." Time magazine, Scarborough complained with more than a touch of resentment, "anointed him the Republican Party's savior before he threw his first pitch."

"Seriously," Scarborough added, "I have complained for years that Barack Obama was sold and marketed like a bag of potato chips, and when I have said it, every Republican has agreed with me, and I said it was a bad move for America when they had a chance to have a more experienced candidate. Even Hillary Clinton. So now Republicans are going ... down that road to elect a guy that has been marketed like a bag of potato chips. Good luck."

It's almost as if Scarborough forgot that Obama was elected -- twice.

Because he has a unique animosity for Rubio, Scarborough left out that his indictment applies in equal measure to Cruz, another first-term senator who hit the ground running for the White House. Indeed, Cruz has been in the Senate for even less time than Rubio.

Scarborough is certainly right that Rubio's list of Senate accomplishments is short. So is Cruz's, and for largely the same reasons. They haven't been around long, and in the last year -- with Republicans in control -- the GOP has mostly focused on limiting any further damage Obama can do.

Which brings us back to this whole "Republican Obama" thing. For Scarborough, not to mention Jeb Bush and N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, the charge that Rubio is a Republican Obama is meant to be a scathing indictment of Rubio's inexperience. But that may not be the way everyone hears it. They might hear: "He's a Republican who can win."

Moreover, while conservatives have rightly faulted President Obama for not being up to the job, particularly when it comes to foreign policy, that indictment isn't the one most on the right focus on. Rather, conservatives have been told, with good reason, that Obama has been a hugely effective progressive ideologue.

While Obama has been something of a disaster for the Democratic Party in terms of congressional and state offices, he still got Obamacare. He also helped steer same-sex marriage to a victory at the Supreme Court, a court where his two ideologically left-wing appointees sit. His EPA helped kill the coal industry while he's poured billions in subsidies into wind and solar boondoggles.

No Republican wants to emulate Obama's many failures, but few wouldn't love to emulate his successes -- in a conservative way.

The point is, it depends what you mean by a Republican Obama. For instance, when Cruz was elected to the Senate, many conservatives hoped -- and many liberals feared -- that he would be a Republican Obama.

My National Review colleague Jay Nordlinger wrote back in 2009, before Cruz was elected, "Is he our Obama -- a Republican Obama? Well, he is far less slippery than our new president. But there are similarities -- especially where communications skills are concerned."

Every candidate's record is fair game. But by their very nature, arguments about a politician's record are arguments about the past. Rubio and Cruz -- or as I like to call them, Los Hermanos Cubanos -- can frame their candidacies on the future. In a year when a majority of Americans -- and a super-majority of Republicans -- think the country is on the wrong track, that's an advantage.

As Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen wrote last year, "Those who dismiss Cruz as a 'Republican Obama' should not forget what we call Obama today: Mr. President."

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Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online.

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