Political Animal


February 15, 2013 12:52 PM The Rubio Scam

By Ed Kilgore

Beth Reinhard has a long article up at National Journal today that achieves something of a breakthrough in explaining the allure to Republicans of Sen. Marco Rubio. To make the long story short, she suggests GOPers see Rubio as the mirror image of Barack Obama: a hard-core ideologue who has fooled the MSM with his superficial charms into treating him as someone new and exciting:

No matter that he’s only punched up the old script, swung back and forth on immigration policy, and never shepherded major legislation through Congress. What Rubio brings is the star power, adoring fan base, and command of the national media unmatched these days by anyone in Washington outside of the Oval Office. It’s the same aggressive product placement that has made the 41-year-old a top-tier presidential contender just two years after his swearing-in.
Rubio is the GOP’s Barack Obama, minus the intellectual heft intimated by two Ivy League degrees and a law-school faculty post. A Generation X-er with a name that sounds like change. The author of an American Dream-laced memoir that, audiences are frequently reminded, helped pay off his student loans. A former state lawmaker and a Senate short-timer with a thin binder of achievements but perhaps blessed with the greatest rhetorical gifts in politics today. “[Rubio] is the best communicator since Ronald Reagan,” Republican brass Karl Rove gushed recently on Fox News….
In one recent example of the symbiotic relationship between Rubio and the accommodating media, Politico’s Mike Allen led his well-read tip sheet on Feb. 5 with this item: “FIRST LOOK—SEN. MARCO RUBIO releases his Spotify track list, ‘What I’m Listening To.’ ” In an interview with BuzzFeed that night in front of a live audience, Rubio spent more time detailing his catalog from the digital-music service (reflecting a diverse taste for rap, indie rock, pop, and Christian rock) than defending his antiscience stance on climate change. His press secretary posted a lighthearted National Journal send-up titled “Five Ways Marco Rubio Is Not Your Grandfather’s Republican” on Twitter as a must-read for “anyone writing bio/profile pieces of @MarcoRubio.”

What’s behind all the excitement? The ideology of the man Rubio recently called his best friend on earth, other than his wife: Jim DeMint.

He received a 100 percent rating from Americans for Prosperity, a 97 percent rating from the Club for Growth, and a 96 percent rating from Heritage Action for America, an arm of the Heritage Foundation. Good luck to any future rival who seeks to outflank him on the right. He voted against the Violence Against Women Act, a United Nations treaty to protect the disabled, and the fiscal-cliff deal that raised taxes on families earning more than $450,000. He also opposed federal aid to superstorm Sandy victims and to states damaged by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. “What sets him apart from other people who just call themselves conservatives is that he’s willing to take the tougher votes,” said AFP President Tim Phillips.
In the homestretch before the November election, Rubio decried gay marriage in automated calls to voters in battleground states. He voted to end funding to Planned Parenthood, called the recent anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision “tragic,” and cosponsored a bill to allow employers to opt out of covering birth control in their health insurance plans.

Some “reformer” and “rebrander,” eh?

It’s important to understand, then, that the absence of anything remotely resembling a new idea in Rubio’s Republican Response to the SOTU Address was for his conservative fans a feature, not a bug. So long as MSM types continue to ignore the DeMintian substance of his political identity and drool over his “style” and “charisma” and “biography,” it’s perfect for the Right. And since that’s what they think the same MSM did for Obama in 2008, they have zero reason to figure it won’t work just as well for Rubio.

Reinhard notes a few problems Rubio would have to overcome on the road to a 2016 presidential nomination, including the possibility that he will be pre-empted by his pre-DeMint mentor, Jeb Bush, and the personal financial irregularities that could threaten his base among Tea Folk who often view credit ratings as divinely ordained measurements of moral worth.

But he could face a much more immediate problem if his media fans stopped fawning over him and took a look at what he actually stands for. That wouldn’t simply lower the temperature of the hype surrounding him: it might also discourage movement conservatives who see him as the vehicle for a successful scam.

So this is one case where blaming the media “messengers” is not only fair but essential.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • John on February 15, 2013 1:04 PM:

    I am immediately suspicious of a Catholic who supposedly listens to Christian rock. Is that even a thing?

  • JMG on February 15, 2013 1:13 PM:

    Wasn't Rubio once Speaker of the Florida House? That by definition means he has more than poor credit ratings to worry about when his finances are scrutinized.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on February 15, 2013 1:16 PM:

    ...drool over his “style” and “charisma” and “biography,” it’s perfect for the Right.

    Erm... Where the hell was I when Rubio was oozing all this "style" and "charisma"??? Rubio is about as oozy as a bowl of warmed-over oat bran. If he's supposed to be the GOP version of Obama, he definitely has all the pastiche of a Chinatown knockoff.

  • c u n d gulag on February 15, 2013 1:24 PM:

    "...the best communicator since Ronald Reagan..."
    Yes, and Sarah Palin is the most competent woman in politics since Hillary Clinton.

    "Rubio is the GOP’s Barack Obama, minus the intellectual heft..."
    Yes, and my Aunt is my Uncle, minus the cohones and johnson.
    Also too - Obama rocked the Democratic Convention in '04 as the Keynote Speaker.
    Rubio, was one of a long list of hopefuls and wanna-be's that stood up there, and read their biography to an adoring audience who wanted to lap it up, because they know the nation is getting tired of their same old stale white-bread candidates, and proved it by voting in a pumpernickel President - TWICE, and they hope that after the pumpernickel one, they'll be wanting to put a Republican tortilla in the White House.

    The boy's a mental light-weight!
    But, after Reagan and W, that is not something that prevents one from either getting his parties nomination, or winning the Presidency.

    And, politically, all he is, is a guy who's able to recite the same old reliable Conservative doctrinaire dogma, verbatim.
    He's new recording device, with both English and Spanish buttons for play-back.

  • hilzoy on February 15, 2013 1:26 PM:

    He's their Obama in something like the sense in which Clarence Thomas was their Thurgood Marshall.

  • abc on February 15, 2013 1:29 PM:

    "In 2006, on the eve of his rise to speaker of the Florida House, Rubio told an audience that 'in January of 1959, a thug named Fidel Castro took power in Cuba and countless Cubans were forced to flee and come here, many — most — here to America. When they arrived, they were welcomed by the most compassionate people on all the Earth.'”

    Only problem with the story is, it is complete BS, his parents moved to the U.S. in 1956 while Castro was in exile in Mexico. But hey, never let actual facts get in the way of a good story.


  • Mimikatz on February 15, 2013 1:41 PM:

    And never mind that Rubio, as a Cuban-American, has very little appeal to Latinos from Mexico and Central America, who make up most of the Latino vote. Not only on ideology, given the many polls showing that Latino voters favor government services and are fairly socially liberal, but also culturally. Cubans have always been the favored immigrants. Yet even that group is change, and in 2012 Obama carried the Cuban-American vote.

    This is just delusional. Rubio's introduction on the SOTU response was dry and amateurish. Maybe you have to be a believer to see his charisma? There is no comparison between him and Obama. Besides which in 2016 Obama won't be on the ballot. Which the GOP hasn't figured out. They just hope his policies and the country will fail, and they can run against him lie Obama ran against Bush in 2008. but if there has been a failure, e do-nothing GOPsters are more likely to get the blame.

  • Perspecticus on February 15, 2013 1:55 PM:

    "But he could face a much more immediate problem if his media fans stopped fawning over him and took a look at what he actually stands for."

    Considering we are still waiting for fans of Ron Paul to do the same, I am unprepared to hold my breath.

  • sparrow on February 15, 2013 2:03 PM:

    I hardly think the Rubio spin as Obama's equivalent will hold up over four years. His state of SOTU rebuttal, if one is so inclined to call it that , showed but a lame attempt t re-brand the same old tired nag that lost the last presidential race and expect it to be called the new Seabiscuit.

  • boatboy_srq on February 15, 2013 2:42 PM:

    So long as MSM types continue to ignore the DeMintian substance of his political identity and drool over his “style” and “charisma” and “biography,” it’s perfect for the Right.

    The GOTea has been Style over Substance for quite a while. Then again, hasn't it been proved (repeatedly: see FreedomWorks for the latest example, though Shrub's MMC is probably a more accurate depiction) that GOTea "Style" is something out of rich, entitled, white-boy college fraternities, complete with togas, excessive alcohol and controlled substances, plenty of "Little Sisters" to "take advantage of", and an army of those Other people to clean up afterward?

  • Josef K on February 15, 2013 3:04 PM:

    Um, let's also keep in mind the (ahem) quality of Republican candidates since Nixon: colorful but clearly dim-witted (Reagan, Bush43) or bland and bloodless (Bush41, McCain and Dole).

    Rubio does seem to embody both extremes, doesn't he? This doesn't especially bode well for the future of his party (or the country, come to it).

  • mudwall jackson on February 15, 2013 3:08 PM:

    i'm at a bit of a disadvantage here since i didn't watch rubio's response to the sotu. but having seen rubio in action in tallahassee, i will say he isn't a politician to be taken lightly, and his style is far from the clunky geek he apparently was tuesday evening. that said, he won election in 2010 when the tea party was at its height against divided opposition and with florida's economy nearly moribund — a perfect storm for rubio. whether he could defeat a stronger opponent in a presidential election year (as he will have to in 2016 if the doesn't run for the wh) when democratic leaning voters in florida tend to turn out in large numbers is an open question.

    the other thing to note is that hispanic voters are far from a monolithic block even in florida.


    i don't think rubio has nearly the cult-like following that ron paul for some inexplicable reason seemed to have.

  • Peter C on February 15, 2013 3:24 PM:

    I agree @Josef K, but I think I'd put McCain in the dim-witted category.

  • Hoodie on February 15, 2013 3:39 PM:

    He shouldn't be taken lightly, but the attempt to compare him to Obama is laughable. Obama is sui generis, i.e. he's not just a black guy who can talk nice. He crafted a narrative and political posture that became a rallying point for groups aspiring to reach equality and respect, e.g., women, minorities, etc. A lot of that has to do with the way he has been disrespected by the largely white right. Rubio is nothing like that, he's just another college republican with an hispanic surname. What is Rubio going to embody, the plight of the rare immigrant entrepeneur? He isn't even one of those. He's basically a nice enough looking guy that says all the things he needs to be acceptable to wealthy whites. He reminds me of a local news anchor doing spots for the local Chevy dealer.

  • June on February 15, 2013 3:49 PM:

    I am so glad that we've got the the one, the only, the original, Obama. It is so amazing to observe how, all at once, the GOP hates on Obama, but at the same time is crazy desperate to claim they've found their own version of him. I still keenly feel the excitement that swept through the nation the night that Senate-candidate Obama gave his keynote address at the Democratic convention. But Rubio? From what I can tell, all that swept through the nation after his rebuttal was a huge, richly deserved belly laugh. That said, I might feel for the guy if his professed ideology wasn't so cruel and disingenous. Karma can be quite the taskmaster.

  • Rick B on February 15, 2013 4:17 PM:

    @abc 1:29 PM

    Besides getting the rest of the story wrong the Cuban exiles have been glossing over the fact that most of the first refugees after the Castro takeover were the guys the Lucky Luciano Mob had placed in Havana to run the hotels and gambling casinos that Batista and the U.S. CIA gave to Luciano and Meyer Lansky after Luciano supposedly helped in the WW II attack on Sicily. Those mob-protected and CIA connected wealthy Cubans owned everything worth anything in Cuba and kept Batista propped in the nastiest dictatorship in Latin America. The CIA's Bay of Pigs attempt to reconquer Cuba was the joint CIA - American mob effort to put Batista back into control on the Cuban island.

    This all is very clear if you read the Intelligence history of the invasion of Sicily in WW II and read the history of Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky during and after the war.

  • JR on February 15, 2013 4:33 PM:

    JMG, yes, indeedy! In fact, when it came out that Rubio's wife had used GOP funds for some of her own expenses, his defense was "She's the First Lady of the Florida House of Representatives!"

    As I commented elsewhere her, I'm willing to wager that Rubio will soon be pushed aside by Ted Cruz as the Great Teabagger Hispanic Hope.

  • Altoid on February 15, 2013 10:24 PM:

    JR: You're probably right. Cruz is angrier. Besides, he's paler and his name doesn't end in a vowel. Why, if he didn't tell you so himself, you'd never even know he's Hispanic. What could be more perfect!

  • jkl; on February 16, 2013 4:40 PM:

    Rubio had a deer in the headlights look even before the ill-advised grab for the teenie water bottle.
    Slight and limited...who was it that said wild ambition eventually slides...
    He's an opiate for those also sliding.

    And he got a smackdown that will show up on with googles.
    He burned without flame, just a brief smoke cloud.

    Cruz does seem like that sneak rogue rapscallion now, but he'd lose a national election.