Marco Rubio's "yesterday" campaign: His attacks on Obama's "class" make him sound like an old curmudgeon

The GOPer is supposed to be the face of the future. So why does he sound like an angry senior?

By Elias Isquith

Published July 23, 2015 1:50PM (EDT)

Marco Rubio (AP/John Locher)
Marco Rubio (AP/John Locher)

On Tuesday night, President Barack Obama appeared on “The Daily Show” for the seventh time, ostensibly because he wanted to say goodbye to Jon Stewart before he ends his 16-year-long stint as the fake news show’s host. Obama joked that he’d issued an “executive order” barring Stewart from stepping down. It was amusing enough, and the audience seemed to enjoy it.

There was at least one viewer, however, who did not find the president’s jokes amusing. And as you read this dissenter’s attack on our clownish commander-in-chief, you can almost hear him shouting obscenities at the television from some depressingly nondescript motel room in Iowa. He is Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who, until recently, was trying to run a forward-looking, youth-focused presidential campaign.

Why was Marco Rubio talking about the president’s “Daily Show” appearance anyway, you ask? Because of the same reason that any Republican says anything as of late: Donald Trump. Rubio was speaking with the bright lights at “Fox and Friends” — who have provided “The Daily Show” with quite a lot of material, over the years — and found himself in the uncomfortable position of having to criticize Trump from one of the few television platforms where the real estate tycoon is celebrated without irony.

According to Rubio, Trump has not shown himself “worthy of the office that he seeks.” But because Rubio is a skilled politician, one who knows that you must always “bridge to your message,” the freshman senator tried to argue that Trump’s buffoonery reminded him of no one so much as the current president. “We already have a president now that has no class,” Rubio griped. He then listed a bunch of supposed transgressions that most people outside the Fox News bubble likely missed.

“I mean, we have a president now that, you know, does selfie-stick videos; that invites YouTube stars there, people that, you know, eat cereal out of a bathtub,” Rubio griped, less-than-eloquently. “You just saw the interview he did right now, where he goes on comedy shows to talk about something as serious as Iran,” Rubio added, referring to the president’s send-off of Jon Stewart. “The list goes on and on.” (Except that was basically it.)

In a very limited sense, Rubio has a point. President Obama has quite deliberately tried to reach out to audiences that politicians have traditionally ignored. That means not only doing gimmicky stuff like taking a selfie for BuzzFeed, but also going on Marc Maron’s podcast and spending money for placing ads where politicians usually don’t go. When Obama first gained attention as a presidential candidate, he vowed to bring more Americans into the political conversation; in practice, joking around with Zach Galifianakis or taking questions on YouTube is what that means.

The median age of a Fox News viewer is nearly 69 years olds, so you can hardly expect them to have much interest in watching an African-American president pander to millennials. But it’s a bit awkward to hear the critique from Rubio — not only because he’s spent some time of his own with the people at BuzzFeed; and not only because he has a history of desperately trying to prove that he likes hip-hop. It’s awkward because attacking Obama for his newness is incompatible with what is supposed to be one of the distinctive features of Rubio’s campaign.

As Rubio emphasized ever since his announcement speech, he sees himself as a candidate of the future. He seems to think this will be a contrast in his favor if he ever goes up against Hillary Clinton in the general election. She wants, he said, to take a “time machine to yesterday.” He, on the other hand, wants to boldly lead America into the 21st century. With a domestic policy straight out of the ‘80s and a foreign policy reminiscent of 2003, that was always going to be a stretch.

But if Rubio’s policies are old, and his supporters are old — as any Republican’s will be — then he doesn’t have much room to sound like an old man himself. It’s true that criticizing Trump without alienating his supporters is a tough spot for any Republican politician; but he’s gotta do better than ranting about those damn millennials on the TV.

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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Barack Obama Buzzfeed Donald Trump Election 2016 Fox And Friends Fox News Marco Rubio