Is Marco Rubio looking to become Donald Trump’s vice president?
In light of the contentious nature of the presidential race, particularly in the blazing rhetorical heat of the South Carolina primary, the idea may not seem so far-fetched.
Consider Jeb Bush, who is seizing on slippage in Trump’s poll numbers as he continues attacks on the Republican front-runner.
“At long last,” declares Red State.
For his part, Trump focused on Bush for nearly his entire campaign, starting with the oft-repeated comment on Bush’s “low energy,” and the $20 million in negative ads the former Florida governor spent attacking him. And in the last GOP debate, Trump touched the proverbial “third rail” of Republican politics by blaming George W. Bush for not keeping America safe on September 11, 2011, when the World Trade Center came down.
So, there’s no love lost there.
And as for Ted Cruz, despite Trump calling him “good guy” back in late 2015 — the halcyon days of the presidential campaign — threats of lawsuits and countersuits in South Carolina have effectively ended any future between the two.
Suffice it to say, chances of a Trump/Cruz ticket are looking mighty slim right now.
Rubio, on the other hand, has resisted the opportunity to, as the Tampa Bay Times suggests, “lay into Donald Trump.” Instead, Rubio points out that he is indeed the subject of many of the attacks. Rubio is mostly “ignoring” Trump — taking a page from the original Cruz campaign strategy.
However, with looming South Carolina primary and the all-important SEC primary soon to follow, calls are growing louder for Rubio to start bashing Trump.
“Cruz, at least, has proved that he can go toe-to-toe with Trump without flinching,” writes Leon Wolf of Red State. “It’s time for Rubio to join the party and demonstrate that he can do the same.”
But will that time ever come?
The possibility of on actual Rubio-Trump alliance does not require a wild imagination. All it takes is connecting a few dots. And one of the largest of those dots come in the shape of veteran Republican pollster Frank Luntz.
Over the past few months, Luntz, known as the “Propagandist of the Century,” has made little secret of his bonds to both Trump and Rubio.
An early example came in December when CBS’ “Face the Nation” aired a segment showing a Luntz-hosted Virginia focus group of Trump fans. The panel was asked about Trump’s plan to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. In response, every hand shot up, demonstrating strong support for a proposal almost universally maligned elsewhere in the media.
CBS was also criticized that same month for the pollster’s handling of another focus group, which featured Muslim-Americans. This time, Luntz was accused of silencing members critical of the U.S., as well as “framing questions” to fit a clear agenda.
Flash forward to February, and Twitter user @DestinyandBruce tweeting a photo of Trump in New Hampshire, shown posing with a handful of supporters. The photo included Luntz joining in an enthusiastic thumbs up with Trump.
— Destiny and Bruce (@DestinyandBruce) February 15, 2016
In addition to the perception of being “in the bag” for the New York real estate mogul, Luntz and his company, Luntz Global Partners, also enjoy a long-standing relationship with Marco Rubio and his campaign.
News website RT.com reported in January that after the “Trump-less” Fox News debate, the network failed to disclose Luntz’s ties to Rubio when airing a post-debate focus group that used flattering clips of the Florida senator to gauge his likability.
“When Luntz showed the ‘highest tested’ clip of the night,” the website noted, “he described it as “humorous and (with) a significant amount of respect for our American heroes.” During a January appearance on Neil Cavuto’s show, Luntz also called Rubio “the most optimistic, the most focused on the American dream of any of the candidates.” There is little reason to doubt Luntz’s loyalty, particularly since Rubio hired him in 2012 to collaborate on the book “100 Innovative Ideas for Florida’s Future,” a clear precursor to his presidential campaign.
As a facilitator for both Trump and Rubio, Luntz could hold the key to why the two GOP candidates — otherwise outspoken when it comes to the rest of the Republican field — have apparently gone “soft” on each other.
Frequently accused of political opportunism, Rubio (somewhat uncharacteristically) shrugs off the need to attack Trump, saying he is staying above the fray and “on message.”
Yet, with a potential VP slot on the line, that same hesitance also smacks of Rubio’s other ambition — jockeying for position in an increasingly likely Trump administration.