Bush vs. Rubio, Perry vs. Cruz

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In Florida, it is almost like a family trauma, a protege and his ardent patron competing for the same prize. In Texas, it is more like a family feud, an upstart and an established figure struggling for advantage.

With more than a dozen and a half potential candidates contending for the Republican presidential nomination, support among GOP voters is unusually divided. But with two candidates running from each of what may be the two most important Republican states in the race, this campaign is also unusually divisive.

Throughout his career, Marco Rubio has been the beneficiary of the support of Gov. Jeb Bush. Today they are considered two of the three top contenders for the Republican nomination, creating anguish for Florida fundraisers and operatives who have customarily worked for them both.

Three summers ago, Gov. Rick Perry endorsed his lieutenant governor in a bitter Senate race against former state solicitor general Ted Cruz. Today the Texas activists who might ordinarily unite behind one presidential candidate are torn.

What the Republicans are enduring in this political season is clearly uncomfortable, eventually untenable and perhaps unprecedented.

Not for almost half a century have vital political states been in such misery, and perhaps never has such misery played out simultaneously in two places. In the two places where it did occur a third of a century apart — New York in the early 1930s and Minnesota in the late 1960s — the resentments persisted long after the initial struggles. Happy days weren’t there again for years, even generations.

The Florida situation is fairly simple. Mr. Bush and Mr. Rubio draw from much the same base of support, in part because Mr. Bush so generously shared his organization with Mr. Rubio as the younger man progressed through Florida politics, first winning a special election to the state House from West Miami, eventually becoming House speaker and then running for Senate.

Mr. Bush’s Senate endorsement came at a critical time in Mr. Rubio’s campaign, just after former Gov. Charlie Crist left the Republican primary in May 2010 to run against Mr. Rubio as an independent. At the time, Mr. Rubio said Mr. Bush’s “service to Florida is immeasurable, as is his impact on my own life and career.”

The situation in Texas is far more complicated, also because of the presence of Mr. Bush, born in Midland. The former Florida governor’s father and brother, both onetime presidents, live in Texas and are enormously popular there. So Mr. Perry and Mr. Cruz are not only competing for support and dollars there but they are also fighting for running room against Mr. Bush. But there is more. Former Silicon Valley executive Carly Fiorina was born in Austin and expects to draw upon support from leaders of the state’s robust high-tech sector.

While the division in the Sunshine State is generational — Mr. Rubio draws from younger Floridians who are less drawn by Mr. Bush’s executive experience — the division in Texas is less clear. Mr. Cruz pulls from Texans with a strong ideological bent. Mr. Perry was governor for half a generation and thus has a strong base. “It’s rare for kids to be in first grade and to graduate from high school with the same governor,” says Ted Delisi, a former Perry consultant who is not working for any presidential candidate now.

Analysts and activists are minimizing these tensions. “Florida’s Republicans have two favorite sons now,” said Susan MacManus, the prominent University of South Florida political scientist. “But whoever gets the nomination they’ll be 100 percent behind.”

Perhaps. But the experience of other states is sobering.

Franklin Roosevelt delivered the nominating speech for Gov. Al Smith of New York in both 1924 and 1928, but when he, then a sitting governor himself, sought the 1932 Democratic nomination, his predecessor in Albany pointedly joined the race as well. “I will take off my coat and fight to the end,” he vowed, “against any candidate who persists in any demagogic appeal … setting class against class and rich against poor.”

Mr. Smith’s target was unmistakably his gubernatorial successor, and he courted Democratic conservatives in a stop-Roosevelt movement at the Chicago convention. It failed, but his resentments smoldered. He became a prominent anti-New Deal voice and supported Republicans Alf Landon in 1936 and Wendell Willkie in 1940 against FDR.

The bitterness in Minnesota in 1968, when Sen. Eugene McCarthy and Vice President Hubert Humphrey ran against each other, was even greater —and more enduring.

The split then was over the Vietnam War that Mr. McCarthy opposed and that Mr. Humphrey, as part of the Lyndon Johnson administration, reluctantly supported. There also was a geographical divide; the student-oriented cities sided with Mr. McCarthy and the rural areas, where Humphrey support ran deep, stuck with the vice president. “It was nice to have two prominent candidates from our state,” said former Minnesota Attorney General Warren Spannaus, a Humphrey supporter who at the time headed the state’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, “but we sure were split on this one.”

Minnesotans were torn by twin passions, one for the Johnson-Humphrey administration that had backed the liberal social-welfare programs so congenial to the state’s traditions, one against the war that was so at odds with the state’s near-pacifism. “In no other state were Democrats so torn and troubled as they were in Minnesota, where they were compelled to choose between two of their leaders — men whom they respected as shapers and leaders,” said the late Alpha Smaby, a member of the state House who was a McCarthy delegate at the tumultuous 1968 convention in Chicago.

The wounds persisted for years. “The differences between Humphrey and McCarthy were right up front, and everyone saw them,” former Vice President Walter F. Mondale said in a recent telephone conversation. “A lot of the people who supported McCarthy were Humphrey people who left him on the war. Itreally hurt Humphrey to see that happen.”

But Mr. Humphrey — a onetime crusading mayor of Minneapolis, a leading liberal senator and a three-time presidential candidate whose enormous impact on American politics is almost forgotten today — was not the only person scarred by the episode.

“The hard feelings lingered for almost a generation,” Mr. Mondale said. “In a community like this one, the emotional damage lasts a long time.” The threat for the Republicans is that it will in Florida and Texas as well. 

David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Post-Gazette (dshribman@post-gazette.com)

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