Why is Jeb Bush going after Marco Rubio?

A 'cash-rich' super PAC supporting Jeb Bush has decided to target Marco Rubio. How do these strategies tell the larger picture of what America 'most needs' to hear right now?

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
Marco Rubio, right, and Jeb Bush, argue a point during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colo.

During the last GOP debate two weeks ago, Marco Rubio had a famous moment: he called Jeb Bush out for attacking Mr. Rubio’s campaign.

“The only reason you’re doing [this] now is because we’re running for the same position, and somebody convinced you attacking me is going to help you,” Rubio said. The audience clapped, Mr. Bush was silenced, and support for Rubio shot up in the polls.

Since that moment, a $100 million "super PAC" supporting the former Florida governor has decided to directly target Rubio’s campaign. The PAC went after Rubio’s stance on abortion, calling him “too pro-life to be president,” and then asked voters in New Hampshire how they felt about Rubio’s absences from Senate. According to the PAC’s chief strategist, the group will spend as much as $20 million to halt Rubio’s sudden surge, the New York Times reports.

On paper, Rubio and Bush could not look more different: Rubio comes from Cuban immigrant parents while Bush hails from a wealthy, affluent political family. But when it comes down to the campaign, both are Spanish-speaking Republicans from Florida with establishment appeal, and that’s enough to pit the former mentor and mentee against one another.

The two Republican candidates will meet face-to-face for the fourth GOP debate tonight in Milwaukee – a crucial debate for both candidates that, according to some media is a “gear up for war.”

Polls following the last GOP debate have showed that voter confidence in Rubio shot up after Rubio defended himself against Bush's attack – and support for Bush seems to be dropping. That’s why tonight will be a crucial evening for Bush, who’s on the cusp of being cut out. (Governors Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee have both been knocked from tonight’s stage for failing to reach 2.5 percent support in national polls.)

Bush’s tactic to go after Rubio may not be of his own making – but it is certainly a major shift from his stance towards Rubio three years ago, when he claimed Rubio had “the intellectual acumen and the fortitude to be a good president.” But the shift does illuminate a bigger theme of PAC politics: the polls matter, and PACs will go to new levels to try and influence them.

Whether Bush will go after Rubio again tonight is still in question, but it’s likely something the media will grill him on. And whether voters will like it is the even bigger question.

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