Marco Rubio is already suiting up for the politics of destruction

Opinion by Fred Hiatt, Washington Post Editorial page editor, Nov 29, 2020

Let’s say you’re a Republican senator who claims to support democracy and U.S. leadership in the world.

Let’s imagine, too, that you’ve spent four years excusing and supporting a president who fawned over North Korea’s odious dictatorencouraged China’s ruling tyrant to build his concentration camps, took the word of Russia’s strongman over U.S. intelligence agencies and celebrated the Saudi despot who orchestrated the dismemberment of a dissident journalist.

And let’s posit that, on top of all that, you’ve been a profile in cowardice as your president tried to nullify a democratic election here at home.

Now the president-elect appoints a team of seasoned, moderate foreign policy experts who support democracy and American leadership in the world.

How do you respond? Like this, maybe?

“I’m sure I will have my differences with President-elect Joe Biden and his team over the coming years. But we share many fundamental principles. His nominees are beyond well-qualified.  For the good of our country, I wish them every success.”

In our dreams.

Here is the way Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) actually greeted the new team: “Biden’s cabinet picks went to Ivy League schools, have strong resumes, attend all the right conferences & will be polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline.”

I suppose this sour, graceless tweet shouldn’t surprise us. It shouldn’t surprise us to see Rubio, along with Tom Cotton (Ark.), Josh Hawley (Mo.) and other Republican senators, disparaging the incoming Biden team. They are now in the opposition, after all. In an ideal world, constructive criticism from the opposition might help keep an administration sharp and focused. In a USA Today op-ed following the tweet, Rubio said his main concern is the new team will be too soft on China.

But there is something particularly galling about this instant pivot to attack mode from senators who couldn’t even bring themselves to acknowledge the results of the election — who have stood by or cheered as President Trump has attempted to overturn those results.

Rubio obviously knows that Trump lost clearly and convincingly, in the electoral college as well as the popular vote. Rubio has been silent as the president claims, with no basis, that the election was stolen. He applauded as Trump attempted to make that case in court, where his lawyers were turned away again and again because they had no evidence.

And when Trump then pressed state and local officials — the secretary of state in Georgia, legislators in Pennsylvania, the Board of State Canvassers in Michigan — to nullify the results, Rubio offered no objection.

If Trump’s coup attempt has failed, it is because his defeat was so decisive — and because those state and local officials had the integrity and courage to resist Trump’s pressure.

But here’s the essential point: Almost no Republicans on the national stage had the integrity or courage to offer backup for these local officials. Almost none of them gave the public any reason to hope that if Trump’s effort to steal the election state by state had gained traction, they would have stood against it.

It wouldn’t have been difficult. Rubio only had to say, “My fellow Americans, this election was not rigged or stolen. There was no communist conspiracy to alter the results. We should be proud that, in the face of a pandemic, we turned out to vote in record numbers, and our votes were counted conscientiously and honestly by thousands of fair-minded Americans across the country.”

Instead, he followed the standard evasive Republican script, legitimizing Trump’s conspiracy theories without parroting them word for word. “Democrats have contested & gone to court after many elections,” he tweeted. “Like any candidate, President Trump is well within his legal rights to request recounts, contest unlawful votes and if he has clear evidence of widespread misconduct or irregularities take them to court.”

After such a near-miss of a constitutional crisis, you might hope Rubio would opt for a few days of quiet self-reflection — or at least abashed silence.

You might hope that he would reach out with an offer of cooperation to Secretary of State-designate Antony Blinken — a man with a long record of bipartisanship and commitment to human rights and free speech, values Rubio claims to champion.

You might hope Rubio would at least wait until the current president had the decency to concede before pronouncing the next one a failure.

But no. Rubio is already suiting up for the politics of destruction, already certain that this new team will preside over America’s decline.

It’s enough to make you despair that he may be right, though not for the reasons he would have us believe.

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