Jeb Bush helped create Marco Rubio. He cheered him through his early victories in tiny West Miami. He even gave him a damn golden sword on the floor of the Florida House while suggesting Rubio could become a "great conservative warrior." And last night, in front of a national TV audience, Rubio may have just decapitated the Jeb for President organization with one deft, cutting jab.
With staggeringly low poll numbers, slashed budgets, and skeptical pundits, Jeb needed a strong debate on CNBC. Instead, he took a glancing shot at Rubio and then received a devastating left hook back from the younger politico.
This morning, conservatives are asking whether the Miami senator just effectively knocked his mentor out of the race.
"You saw Marco Rubio rip his still-beating heart out of his chest and stomp on it," Steve Deace, a conservative talk-radio host, said in his wrapup.
The exchange — one of the only watchable moments in a terrible, choppy, brain-dead CNBC operation — hinged on a major miscalculation from Bush. Rubio has been taking heat over his terrible voting record in the Senate. The Sun Sentinel called for his resignation yesterday over the lack of interest in doing his D.C. duties. There's room for a legit critique of Rubio's work in those facts.
But when Jeb came out swinging hard — comparing the U.S. Senate's schedule to a "French workweek" and wagging his finger at Rubio — he came across as a scolding loser trying to score points on a guy who's beating him in the polls. And then Rubio brought hot fire back, suggesting that Jeb was poisoning their long relationship at the bidding of his soulless pollsters. The crowd ate it up. Jeb looked punch-drunk.
The moment was all the more damaging because Bush was barely given time to make a mark in the debate. Politico tallied up talking time for each candidate, and Bush got the least airtime of anyone, with just five minutes and 49 seconds. That's almost half of Rubio's nine minutes and 36 seconds.
The result was that his attack on Rubio was his only really memorable moment — and it was one he lost, badly.
Is it hyperbolic to say Jeb's race is over? Of course. The guy is still sitting on a mountain of cash. He's still beloved by many establishment Republicans. He'll fight through the early primary states.
But it's not insane to think that in six months, political writers will look back to this debate and this exchange with Marco Rubio as the moment a listing campaign went full-on Titanic. That's been the talking point all over D.C. this morning.