Marco Rubio and Donald Trump are slinging mud by spraying water. Perhaps this results from the unconscious influence of their ties to Florida, a vast peninsula surrounded by the sparkling aqua stuff.
Trump himself is master of an estate whose name – Mar-a-Lago – derives from its proximity to two bodies of water. Rubio’s persona is shaped by the 90 miles of Florida Straits separating his family’s adopted country from Cuba’s tyranny.
It is a shame, given the importance of water to Florida and in their lives, that the two candidates insist on drawing from a polluted well.
For example, early in the race Trump appeared on Morning Joe and criticized Rubio as someone “who has the worst voting record in the United States Senate” – a fair line of attack – but then went on to say, “He sweats more than any young person I’ve seen in my life. …I’ve never seen a guy down water like he downs water. …They bring it in in buckets for this guy.”
That is just one instance of many in which Trump ridiculed Rubio’s sweat glands and thirst.
He frequently says Rubio looks like someone who jumped into a swimming pool with all of his clothes on. In one appearance, Trump sloshed water from a plastic bottle in what looked like a parody of a priest sprinkling holy water.
Of course Trump’s soggy insults reference Rubio’s embarrassing lurch for water during his 2013 GOP response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.
Rubio paid Trump back during their Texas debate when, in a sly reference to his own previous evisceration by former candidate Chris Christie, Rubio gleefully pointed out that Trump went into robo-repetition mode when trying in vain to explain how Trump could replace Obamacare.
At a rally the day after Rubio exposed Trump as a candidate squishy on policy, he went on to ridicule Trump’s backstage request for a full-length mirror, “Maybe to make sure his pants weren’t wet.”
If that seems crude, remember that in December Trump himself seemed obsessed by the fact that Hillary Clinton took bathroom breaks during a Democratic debate, calling the thought that she did so “disgusting.”
After Rubio scored in the recent debate, Trump sought to douse his rival’s resurgence with still more remarks about Rubio’s sweat glands and by producing an endorsement from former New Jersey Gov. Christie.
Christie’s presence itself has a watery footnote since a major scandal of his administration involves attempts to punish a political rival by creating traffic jams in his city by shutting down a key bridge.
It remains to be seen whether Trump and Rubio will continue their spraying contest and how Florida voters will react if they do. Pundits reasonably conjecture that Rubio must win the March 15 winner-take-all Florida primary to keep his head above water.
Note that Democrats Clinton and Bernie Sanders also are campaigning on a water-related theme. But their concerns are loftier.
Both Clinton and Sanders have made an issue of the crisis in Flint Michigan, where water pouring out of faucets contains toxic lead levels. Inept decisions by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration initiated the crisis and have been followed by an inept response from the governor.
“If we are looking at children being poisoned,” said Sanders during a recent visit to Flint, “if that is not an emergency, I just don’t know what an emergency is.”
Clinton has been even more involved in Flint. “This is not merely unacceptable or wrong,” she said, “though it is both. What’s happened in Flint is immoral.”
Flint and the Trump-Rubio water wars might seem like minor issues, but they reflect the parties’ different approaches to larger matters. Republicans are the party of undermining the Environmental Protection Agency, endangering water and so much more. And they ignore or deny climate change, an attitude that will result in sea-level rise, one of the worst water-related disasters that can happen to Florida.
Democrats are the party that wants to protect the EPA and correctly wants America to lead in the attempt to slow global warming.
This year the contrast between Republicans and Democrats is stark. Republican candidates are spouting insults involving sweat and urine. Democrats are intent on wiping away grieving Flint residents’ tears.
Jac Wilder VerSteeg is a columnist for The South Florida Sun Sentinel, former deputy editorial page editor for The Palm Beach Post and former editor of Context Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida