The humbling of Marco Rubio puts Trump back on top

Matthew Norman
Sunday 07 February 2016 20:18
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The Republican debate began with scenes of confusion as candidates failed to come out on cue
The Republican debate began with scenes of confusion as candidates failed to come out on cue

The sporting shocks come not only thick and fast, but in fat. Within hours of Leicester’s annihilation of Manchester City, the latest performance in the revival of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – technically: Republican primary debates – found obese rank outsider Chris Christie destroying odds-on chance Marco Rubio. It was hardly the first cushion-biting debate humiliation of the kind. Four years ago, Texan eighth wit Rick Perry reacted to forgetting a key campaign pledge with a silky “Oops!”. In the 1992 vice-presidential debate, Ross Perot’s running mate Admiral Stockdale – a ringer for Victor Meldrew’s older brother, who set his hat alight with the contents of his pipe – started by asking “Who am I? Why am I here?” And in 1976, Gerald Ford assured Americans that there was no Soviet domination of eastern Europe, and under his presidency never would be.

Rubio’s humiliation came when, in response to Christie assailing him for robotically trotting out memorised 25-second talking points, the Cuban-American junior senator from Florida robotically trotted out the memorised 25-second talking point he’d parroted often before. “There it is, there it is,” said Christie, beating Rubio (as The New York Times’s Frank Rich tweeted) “like a rented mule”. How lethally defining it will prove for Rubio isn’t clear, and making predictions about this nomination cycle is a fool’s game. In the Sunday Times, for example, Niall Ferguson, Emeritus Professor of Meretricious Historical Contrarianism at the University of Narcissism, has a Wacky Races-themed column headlined “Peter Perfect Rubio has the Hispanic fuel to zip past Donald Dastardly”. Exquisite timing there, albeit Rubio’s disaster is even more beautifully timed, with the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, for Trump.

Just when the tangerine-hued braggart’s bubble seemed poised to burst, the “boy in the bubble” (as Christie calls Rubio) may have imploded to put him back in charge. If so, and if Trump goes on to win the nomination, he will turn to his vice-presidential pick. He could hardly go for Iowa champion Ted Cruz, whom many find viscerally revolting and whose own daughter was caught on camera recoiling from his attempted hug. Whether he would want the youthful Rubio for the Hispanic vote, Sarah Palin for the gun-clinging nutter vote, or even to reward the centrist Christie for taking out Rubio, is anyone’s guess. But so far as the latter, you have to believe that the very last thing Donald will feel he needs is an attack dog.

...And waterboarding for all

Speaking of Trump, he did well to resist any temptation to pander to that portion of the political Venn diagram where the Republican right and neo-fascism intersect. In a typically nuanced response when asked about reviving a popular George W Bush interrogation technique, Trump said he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding”. He didn’t specify if that hints at medieval tongue-looseners like the rack, modern techniques like electrodes, or something wholly original, such as loosing The Thing On His Head to tickle suspects until their resistance breaks. Perhaps he will clarify in the next debate.

The reluctant Brexiters

While Republican nomination hopefuls tend to view every matter as black or white, here at home the EU referendum leaves two of our titans marooned in a quagmire of grey. The indecision must be tremendously exhausting for Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, but try as they might they simply cannot make up their minds. Govey is reportedly waging a destructive internal battle between his anti-EU principles and his touching loyalty to David Cameron. And Boris is just as high-minded. As an unnamed friend told The Independent on Sunday, Boris “is still ‘genuinely deliberating’, and is not concerned about the impact it could have on his future leadership chances.” The very thought of it.

Be Google’s guest, Chancellor

Marvellous to find George Osborne enjoying a battery-recharging break from his duties ushering in the next recession. The Chancellor flew to California for the weekend, though not to LA for the Straight Outta Compton tour (you will recall that he is an NWA superfan), but to San Francisco with his son Luke to watch the Superbowl, as part sponsored by the good folk at Google. George apparently attended “in a private capacity”, though given that brutal tax demand – seven and thruppence ha’penny a year for 20 years – that firm is in no position to comp air fares or match tickets. How it found even a fraction of the sponsorship money is beyond me.

Greg Wise atones for old sins

It isn’t only internet goliaths who embrace creative tax avoidance, as the actor Greg Wise (Emma Thompson’s old man) has discovered. After going undercover to research the practice for an edition of Channel 4’s Dispatches, he writes about learning from specialist advisers that – despite Superbowl Georgie’s solemn oath to end this nonsense – paying tax still appears to be a matter of choice for those with access to offshore trickery. This is noble work. It doesn’t remove the stain of appearing in 1999’s Mad Cows, which has claims to be the worst movie yet made. But it is a step towards redemption, and hats off to Wise for that.

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