We are less than a month away from the Iowa caucuses (February 1), which will be the first time we see voting in what has already felt like an interminable presidential election. As of this moment, Donald Trump continues to soak up most of the oxygen , but there are other dramas underway, one of which has been called Shakespearean.
That was the adjective that Chris Hayes of MSNBC applied to the Jeb Bush-Marco Rubio relationship last October. Bush and Rubio, both Florida politicians, are vying to be the “establishment candidate” that will square off with the outsider candidates (Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson). At one point in their history Bush was Rubio’s political mentor, and upon Rubio’s ascension to Florida Speaker of the House, Jeb bestowed upon his protégé “the sword of Chang.” Rubio, when he needed direction, at times would ask himself “what would Jeb do?” It stands to reason, then, that Bush was hurt that Rubio decided to run against him for president rather that awaiting his turn. Increasingly they have been trading barbs.
So which Shakespearean drama fits the relationship? The ones that come to mind are Caesar-Brutus, Duncan-Macbeth, and Henry IV-Hal. Let’s examine each one.
Brutus, of course, delivers the “unkindest cut of all,” stabbing the man who thought that he was a friend. Caesar is on the verge of ascending to supreme authority when Brutus and the other senators assassinate him. I suspect that, when Hayes calls the conflict Shakespearean, this is the moment he has in mind.
When Rubio, in the first debate, put down Bush with devastating effect–“Someone convinced you attacking me is going to help you”–it was as though he was wielding the sword of Chang against the person who gave it to him.
Caesar’s description of another of the assassins could also apply to Rubio:
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look.
Duncan is already king, not running for the position, when Macbeth murders him–but Bush, at the time that Rubio declared his candidacy, had all but been “crowned” as the eventual nominee by the Republican establishment.
I can well imagine a witch of ambition standing upon a “blasted heath” and whispering into Rubio’s head,
All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter!
Rubio, like Macbeth, for a while promised loyalty to Jeb:
The service and the loyalty I owe,
In doing it, pays itself. Your highness’ part
Is to receive our duties; and our duties
Are to your throne and state children and servants,
Which do but what they should, by doing every thing
Safe toward your love and honour.
We learn very quickly how much Macbeth’s promises are worth.
In a very painful scene, Henry finds his son trying on his crown before he is dead. (In all fairness to Hal, he thinks his father is dead.) It’s not hard for me to imagine Jeb delivering a modern version of the following speech to Rubio:
Dost thou so hunger for mine empty chair
That thou wilt needs invest thee with my honours
Before thy hour be ripe? O foolish youth!
Thou seek’st the greatness that will o’erwhelm thee.
And further on:
Thou hidest a thousand daggers in thy thoughts,
Which thou hast whetted on thy stony heart,
To stab at half an hour of my life.
What! canst thou not forbear me half an hour?
Then get thee gone and dig my grave thyself,
And bid the merry bells ring to thine ear
That thou art crowned, not that I am dead.
Let all the tears that should bedew my hearse
Be drops of balm to sanctify thy head…
Hal is properly apologetic but there’s another line he uses, this time to his companion Falstaff, that I can imagine Rubio directing against his fellow Floridian:
I know thee not, old man.
Power struggles and the politics of succession can be harsh.