NBC Urges Rubio to Attack Trump, Then Says He’s Taking ‘Low Road’

Despite the hosts of NBC’s Today repeatedly demanding that Marco Rubio attack Donald Trump just two days earlier, after the Florida senator did just that in Thursday’s GOP debate, Friday’s edition of the morning show led off with co-host Matt Lauer fretting: “Texas smackdown. Things get ugly at the Republican debate, with Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz both taking repeated shots at Donald Trump....Has the low road become the new road to the nomination?”

In the report that followed minutes later, correspondent Peter Alexander declared: “After three straight double-digit victories for Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz finally ganged up on the frontrunner.” He noted that “the fight felt much more like a brawl.”

Turning to Bloomberg Politics managing editor Mark Haplerin, co-host Savannah Guthrie wondered: “Marco Rubio dumping the entire oppo[sition research] file on Trump, from the fake university to the hiring of the illegal workers, to the fraud lawsuit....was it enough? Was it too late?”

While the broadcast had seen such as attacks as a winning strategy just 48 hours before, Halperin dismissed it as a futile effort: “...if someone, including Marco Rubio, had had a performance like this against Donald Trump two or three months ago, whether the trajectory would be different. We're a few days away from Super Tuesday....And so, I think Marco Rubio probably waited too long to put this kind of performance in.”

Tell the Truth 2016

Lauer asked political analyst Nicolle Wallace: “I don't think there’s any doubt this was Marco Rubio's best performance in a debate. Was it Donald Trump's worst?” Wallace replied: “It doesn't matter, I mean, he's always pretty crummy and it never seems to matter.”

She then suggested Rubio helped every other candidate, but not himself:

...Chris Christie did to Marco Rubio what Marco Rubio did to Donald Trump. And the effect of that was incredible damage to Marco Rubio, but Chris Christie was out, I think, less than a week later. What will be interesting to me is...did Marco Rubio as Chris Christie, if you will, make it easier for Ted Cruz to win Texas? Did Rubio, in effect, breath some life back into all of the opponents to Trump?

Guthrie put another question to Halperin: “...does this buy Marco Rubio some time?...is he going to get an influx of support and cash?” Halperin rejected the idea:

The problem he has is, Super Tuesday, when so many delegates are at stake, with so many states voting on Tuesday, there’s no state at this point it looks like Marco Rubio could win. So while he says he can win Florida, and there are people who doubt that and the public polling doesn't suggest he can, it's hard to see how he survives all the way to Florida in a couple weeks if he doesn't win a single state on Super Tuesday or between Super Tuesday and when Florida votes on the 15th. So he's in a stronger position with a strong debate performance but it's still tough to see how that debate performance translates into winning states in the short term.     

Moments later, Wallace agreed: “I think Republicans are wondering, where was this outcry? Where was this hysteria?...I agree with Mark Halperin’s analysis, I'm just not sure if there’s time.”

Rubio appeared on all three network morning shows on Friday and slammed a “biased” news media “rooting” for Donald Trump.

Here is a full transcript of the February 26 discussion with Halperin and Wallace:

7:12 AM ET

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: And now let's bring in NBC political analyst Nicolle Wallace, and Mark Halperin, managing editor for Bloomberg Politics. Good morning to both of you.

NICOLLE WALLACE: Good morning.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: GOP’s Lone Star State Showdown; Trump, Rubio & Cruz Get Feisty in Republican Debate]

GUTHRIE: Mark, I will start with you, you were at the debate last night. There’s that old saying, throwing everything but the kitchen sink. In this case, I think the kitchen sink was also included, in terms of Marco Rubio dumping the entire oppo file on Trump, from the fake university to the hiring of the illegal workers, to the fraud lawsuit. It was all in there. And I guess the question this morning is, was it enough? Was it too late?
                
MARK HALPERIN: Kitchen sink, bathtub, and everything else in his arsenal. You know, this morning with you guys, he talked about Trump as a con artist. I thought that was a more focused message than he had last night, where he try lots of different things. It's interesting to think about, if someone, including Marco Rubio, had had a performance like this against Donald Trump two or three months ago, whether the trajectory would be different. We're a few days away from Super Tuesday. Donald Trump is leading in all the states voting on Super Tuesday by a substantial margin, except Texas. And so, I think Marco Rubio probably waited too long to put this kind of performance in.

LAUER: Nicolle, I don't think there’s any doubt this was Marco Rubio's best performance in a debate. Was it Donald Trump's worst?

WALLACE: It doesn't matter, I mean, he's always pretty crummy and it never seems to matter. What I think is interesting is – so Chris Christie did to Marco Rubio what Marco Rubio did to Donald Trump. And the effect of that was incredible damage to Marco Rubio, but Chris Christie was out, I think, less than a week later. What will be interesting to me is did Chris – I’m sorry – did Marco Rubio as Chris Christie, if you will, make it easier for Ted Cruz to win Texas? Did Rubio, in effect, breath some life back into all of the opponents to Trump? This indictment of Trump on all of his business dealings was always viewed as Trump's Achilles heel. And the mystery in Republican circles is why didn't anyone make this case before?

GUTHRIE: In talking about the effect, now, of this attack, Mark, to you, does this buy Marco Rubio some time? I mean, do you think the GOP donors and the loyalists and the people kind of waiting on the sidelines wondering if Marco Rubio had it in him to go the distance, are they now off the sidelines and is he going to get an influx of support and cash?

HALPERIN: Well, they’ll certainly – some people will be encouraged and say, “Well, wow, we'd love to see maybe a one-on-one debate between Marco Rubio and Donald Trump. The problem he has is, Super Tuesday, when so many delegates are at stake, with so many states voting on Tuesday, there’s no state at this point it looks like Marco Rubio could win. So while he says he can win Florida, and there are people who doubt that and the public polling doesn't suggest he can, it's hard to see how he survives all the way to Florida in a couple weeks if he doesn't win a single state on Super Tuesday or between Super Tuesday and when Florida votes on the 15th. So he's in a stronger position with a strong debate performance but it's still tough to see how that debate performance translates into winning states in the short term.

LAUER: Alright, Nicolle, Mark, this was fascinating. Thank you very much. Good to see you guys this morning.

(...)

7:16 AM ET

WALLACE: But I think Republicans are wondering, where was this outcry? Where was this hysteria? Donald Trump has been doing well for a very long time. Marco Rubio is now satisfying and acceptable to a broad swath of all of the kind of Republicans who laughed at those jokes. Where was the strength that he displayed last night six, seven, two months ago, when it really could have put Marco Rubio in the stop top position of all of these polls?

GUTHRIE: And to your point, it's not like these lines of attack were hiding in the bushes, this was the low-hanging fruit.

WALLACE: Trump's business dealings are known around New York and in business communities. And that they're finally being put out in such an aggressive way is satisfying to a lot of people who wondered why they weren't earlier. But I agree with Mark Halperin’s analysis, I'm just not sure if there’s time.

LAUER: Nicolle, thank you.

GUTHRIE: Thank you very much.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is the Senior News Analyst for MRC