Establishment Republicans Scramble To Top Trump

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Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. holds a rifle during a campaign stop Jan. 15, 2016, at Sturm, Ruger & Co., in Newport, N.H. (AP)
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. holds a rifle during a campaign stop Jan. 15, 2016, at Sturm, Ruger & Co., in Newport, N.H. (AP)

New Hampshire Republicans have a track record of picking presidential candidates who often go on to win their party's nomination. Usually, that means bolstering establishment candidates. But this year, billionaire Donald Trump is polling far ahead of the rest of the pack. That leaves his rivals fighting amongst themselves in the hope that one of them can take down Trump in the state that holds the first primary.

There's not much time left for establishment Republicans to settle on a favorite. And with no clear challenger to Trump's dominance in New Hampshire, other candidates and their superPACs are lobbing attack ads at each other.

One ad from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie opens with the words, "Marco Rubio is attacking Gov. Chris Christie." It's a response to the Florida senator's criticism of Christie's record on a range of issues, including gun control.

That back and forth continued on the campaign trail in New Hampshire on Friday. During a stop at a weapons factory in Newport, Rubio was presented with a hunting rifle before addressing a room full of plant workers.

"I'm gonna tell you what's really important, that our nominee be someone who is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. And there are Republicans running who are not supporters of the Second Amendment, in the way you and I want them to be," Rubio said.

In addition to attacking Christie's record on gun control, which evolved over time, Rubio has made an issue of Christie's close working relationship with President Obama after Hurricane Sandy battered New Jersey. It's all meant to question Christie's conservative credentials.

A few hours later in Hollis, N.H., Rubio himself was the target of attacks from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

"The senators sometimes get off into their world, their little ecosystem of Washington, D.C.-talk. I don't know if you've noticed. It's mind-numbing, actually," Bush said.

Bush joked that Rubio, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, live in an "alternative universe." He also took aim at Trump, after a member of the audience asked how Bush could distinguish himself in a year when voters seem to favor big personalities. Bush said he plans to stay the course, arguing that having the ideas and experience to be president should be enough.

"And if it isn't, I'm not gonna change who I am. I'm just not gonna do it. I'm not gonna play the game. I'm not gonna insult someone just because I'm told that's the way to connect with voters," Bush said. "Really? Really? I mean Trump does this, and it sets me off."

Afterward as the crowd thinned, Milt Janosky and Jim Polus, both of Hollis, stayed to chat about the race. Janosky said he likes Bush, but he's also considering Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.

Janosky said he's definitely not voting for Trump, calling him "dangerous."

Polus is supporting Bush, but said there are a lot of good establishment choices.

"People like myself and Milt – we have three or four candidates that we think could be good. So that vote is being split four different ways," he said.

Janosky said those voters could easily defeat Trump — if they could just settle on one candidate they could all support.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright NPR. View this article on npr.org.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

New Hampshire voters take pride in their track record of supporting presidential candidates who often go on to win their party's nomination. The state is also known for helping to bolster establishment Republicans, that is until this year. Donald Trump is double digits ahead of his rivals in the polls. And as NPR's Sarah McCammon reports, that leaves the rest of the pack fighting to be the one who can take Trump down.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: There's not much time left for establishment Republicans to settle on a favorite. And with no clear challenger to Donald Trump's dominance here in New Hampshire, other candidates and their super PACs are lobbying attack ads at each other.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Chris Christie could well be Obama's favorite Republican governor.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Marco Rubio, just another Washington politician you can't trust.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

CHRIS CHRISTIE: Do not be fooled. Any significant division within the Republican Party leads to the same awful result.

MCCAMMON: That last ad opened with the words Marco Rubio is attacking Governor Chris Christie. It was a response to Rubio's criticism of Christie's record. The back-and-forth continued on the campaign trail in New Hampshire yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARCO RUBIO: So it's a four-round magazine.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Yeah, yeah.

MCCAMMON: During a stop at a weapons factory in Newport, Rubio was presented with a hunting rifle.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RUBIO: And what's the range on that?

MCCAMMON: The Florida senator addressed a roomful of plant workers in between shifts.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RUBIO: And I'm going to tell you what's really important, that our nominee be someone who is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. And there are people running - Republicans running - that are not supporters of the Second Amendment in the way you and I want them to be. They support gun control.

MCCAMMON: A few hours later in Hollis, N.H., Rubio himself was the target of attacks from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEB BUSH: The senators sometimes get off into their world, their little ecosystem, of Washington, D.C., talk. I don't know if you've noticed. It's mind-numbing actually.

MCCAMMON: Bush joked that Rubio and Texas senator Ted Cruz live in an alternative universe.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BUSH: It was like I filed an amendment and you didn't and - these are bills that never passed.

MCCAMMON: He also took aim at Trump after a member of the audience asked how he could distinguish himself in a year when voters seem to favor big personalities.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: The degree to which 2016 is an election cycle that's more about personality than policy...

BUSH: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: ...How do you break through the personality noise in the next three weeks in Iowa and New Hampshire?

MCCAMMON: Bush said he plans to stay the course, arguing that having the ideas and experience to be president should be enough.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BUSH: And if it isn't, I'm not going to change who I am. I'm just not going to do it. I'm not going to play the game. I'm not going to insult someone just because I'm told that that's the way to connect with voters - really? Really? I mean, Trump does this, and I don't know. It just - it sets sets me off.

MCCAMMON: Afterward, Milt Janosky of Hollis said he likes Bush. But he's also considering Christie, Ohio Governor John Kasich and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. Janosky says he's definitely not voting for Trump, and he has a question for those who are.

MILT JANOSKY: What in the world are you thinking with - this guy is dangerous. He really is.

MCCAMMON: Janosky was chatting with Jim Polus, also from Hollis. He's supporting Bush, but he says there are a lot of good choices.

JIM POLUS: People like myself and Milt, we have three or four candidates that we think could be good. So that vote is being split four different ways.

MCCAMMON: Janosky says those voters could easily defeat Donald Trump if they could just settle on someone they all could support. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Nashua, N.H. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.