In using this title, I’m not saying that Trump and Rubio are in any kind of conspiracy or that they’re intentionally working together in any way. What I am saying is that just like some species of animals–such as the clownfish and the sea anemone–unintentionally create the conditions needed for each other to thrive, so Rubio and others like him have helped create the conditions necessary for the Trump phenomenon.
In 2010 Rubio was facing an uphill struggle in his attempt to win a U.S. Senate seat in Florida. The Republican establishment was against him, but Rubio won the support of the Tea Party movement in Florida by taking strong conservative positions. One of those was his promise never to support amnesty for illegal aliens. Conservatives worked hard in support of Rubio, and he won an upset victory. The story of what happened next is familiar. When he got to Washington Rubio abandoned his constituents, went back on his word, and became in many ways the face and the voice of the infamous Gang of Eight as it pushed for adoption of Barack Obama’s program of amnesty for illegal aliens. For the conservatives who had helped elect Rubio, and for the rest of us all across the nation who had cheered his victory and seen him as a rising star of conservatism, it was a stunning betrayal.
But what has all this got to do with Trump? The answer is that it helped to create the conditions in which a political charlatan like Trump could thrive. It produced a powerful mood of frustration and anger as voters contemplated the apparent fact that nothing they could do could have any effect on government policy. Rubio’s case was certainly not the only source of this fury, but it was the most striking and dramatic. Along with what the rest of the Republican establishment was doing, it completed the picture of a government that would go on doing whatever the elites wanted, in utter contempt of the voters’ wishes. When it came to amnesty, we voters had a choice: We could have amnesty with the Democrats, amnesty with the moderate Republicans, or, thanks to Rubio, amnesty with what had appeared to be conservative Republicans. It didn’t seem to matter. We were getting amnesty regardless.
Like a hillside covered with dry brush and grass, searing under a late-summer sun, this mood of voter frustration provided the fuel for the present Trump prairie fire. A large number of people, apparently about 35% of those who say they plan to vote in the Republican primaries if the polls are to be believed, have become so angry with the Republican establishment that they are ready to cast aside reason, civility, morals, decency, and any regard for the facts in a frenzy of frustration against the establishment. So intense is their desire to eradicate the establishment that they will even reject a statesman, Ted Cruz, who has fought steadfastly against the establishment. Yet they reject him merely because he has experience in government. Instead they will run blindly after a narcissistic, four-time bankrupt businessman of scandalous morals and shady associations who offers only the most threadbare expressions of having recently adopted conservative views after a lifetime of fighting them. This is indeed a leap into the realm of non-reason. It’s driven by an unreasoning rage, and that rage is spawned by a feeling of political helplessness.
The Republican establishment may wince at some of Trump’s antics. Rubio no doubt hopes eventually to overcome the former “reality” TV star and win the nomination for himself. But in a weird symbiosis the duplicity of Rubio and other Republican establishment politicians has created the conditions in which the Trump cancer could thrive.