Since the debate season began in the 2016 race for the White House, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has come under fire from pundits and on social media for reciting canned lines and memorized talking points at debates instead of naturally answering the questions posed.
At the ABC News debate in New Hampshire on Saturday, Marco Rubio made an unusual rookie mistake and enhanced this reputation by repeating variations of the same line four times, with the exact same variation used twice. He even introduced the fourth use of the line with the odd, “Here’s the response,” to audible booing from the live audience. This bizarre slip-up launched a thousand Twitter jokes referring to Marco Rubio as a robot who “glitched,” “malfunctioned,” and “short-circuited.”
“Let’s dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing.”
Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) sparred with Marco Rubio over this issue, insisting that such insincerity is a hallmark of Washington politics. Ironically, this was Christie returning to what has been a repeat Christie tactic during the debate cycle — positioning himself as a Washington outsider who spends his days getting his hands dirty running the state of New Jersey, and contrasting this with the day-to-day lives of the senators on the debate stage by portraying them as orators and nothing more.
“You see, everybody? I want the people at home to think about this. That’s what Washington, D.C. does. The drive-by shot at the beginning, with incorrect and incomplete information, and then the memorized 25-second speech that is exactly what his advisers gave him.”
For his part, Marco Rubio clung to his repeated line in an attempt to combat any comparisons his opponents made between his own purported lack of experience and that of President Barack Obama, who was a first-term senator — like Rubio is now — when he ran for president and won in 2008, and is strongly disliked by the Republican base.
Marco Rubio clearly made the choice ahead of time to push the idea that President Obama was fully prepared to take on the job of United States President after only one successful election at the national level, therefore any actions that potential Republican primary voters view as unacceptable are due to calculation, not incompetence.
Some are saying Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. Seriously? He knows exactly what he's doing.— Marco Rubio Glitch (@RubioGlitch) February 7, 2016
Unfortunately for Marco Rubio, he had already used this line twice when Chris Christie went after him for his lack of political experience and his absolute dearth of executive experience, and Rubio didn’t seem to have any other response prepared, nor was he able to come up with a different tactic on the fly. Additionally, Christie had just set up his oft-used accusation that senators are all talk and no action, giving him the perfect opportunity to essentially just point to Marco Rubio as an example of the kind of behavior he’d described moments before.
I've watched Rubio for a long time, always thought that critique of him as a talking-points robot was way overblown. But oh dear.— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) February 7, 2016
This would be a big enough problem for Marco Rubio had the talking point itself held up to scrutiny, but Buzzfeed News quickly discovered that Rubio has a strong history of claiming that President Obama, in fact, doesn’t know what he’s doing — particularly in drawing direct comparisons between the president and his 2012 opponent, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
Buzzfeed News discovered Marco Rubio directly contradicting his repeated line as recently as December 2015, when he claimed on Fox News Channel that President Obama “doesn’t know what he’s doing” when it comes to defeating Daesh (ISIS).
“People, first of all, are scared because they sense the threat; it continues to grow, and the president doesn’t know what he’s doing. On Sunday night, he gave a speech that was supposed to reassure the American people and I think it made things worse. He gave a speech where he basically announced that, these are the problems that we have, but we’re not gonna change anything.”
Politifact went after Marco Rubio immediately following the New Hampshire debate as well — Rubio claimed during the debate that he abandoned his 2013 attempt at an immigration bill due to lack of popular support for a change in legal status for undocumented immigrants. Politifact rated this claim Mostly False, stating that a May 2015 Pew Research poll found broad public support for a path to legal status.
All in all, it was a very tough night for Marco Rubio, leaving pundits wondering how he will fare in the upcoming New Hampshire primary on February 9. Marco Rubio won third place in the Iowa caucus on February 1.
[Image courtesy of Joe Raedle/Getty Images]