Over at CNN, Manu Raju has an article examining how Sen. Marco Rubio has managed to creep into the top tier of GOP candidates. The short answer: By adopting a slow-and-steady approach of avoiding big and controversial pronouncements, attending mostly “small-bore” fundraisers with big party donors, and generally keeping his head down while others in the race tear each other’s off. So while front-runner Donald Trump reduces Rubio’s fellow Floridian Jeb Bush to a sputtering, incoherent mess on a national debate stage (“My brother kept us safe!”), the junior senator just plods along like the proverbial tortoise.
This is a smart strategy only in that it puts off Rubio’s inevitable day of reckoning when voters realize that almost every time he opens his mouth, he says something completely dumb. Political junkies have been aware of this tendency for quite some time. The great Charlie Pierce has had a running joke about Rubio stepping on rakes – WHAP! – for almost as long as he has been writing about the guy.
The big issue that has garnered attention for Rubio has been immigration reform. Simon Maloy recently covered how Rubio’s awkward flip-flops on the issue could hurt him in a general election. But don’t overlook his stated positions on everything else. Because when you cut through whatever incoherent word salad he deploys to express them, you discover they are all terrible.
For example, on abortion he has been swinging far over to the right for some time to placate the Republican base. In the GOP’s Aug. 6 debate, he reiterated that he has always had a zero-tolerance policy on abortions, contradicting his position of two years ago when he co-sponsored antiabortion legislation that would have made exceptions for rape and incest. Now he’s trying to navigate this brave new zero-tolerance-of-abortions world by trafficking in the same crazed fever dreams about Planned Parenthood that have been bedeviling Carly Fiorina lately, telling an Iowa radio station, “I just think you’ve created an industry now — a situation where very much, you’ve created an incentive for people not just to look forward to having more abortions, but being able to sell that fetal tissue — these centers — for purposes of making a profit off it.”
As Wayne Campbell might have said, “Ex-squeeze me? A baking powder?” What woman does Rubio know who “looks forward to having more abortions” to help Planned Parenthood make a profit? A question for the senator: If a woman wants to donate to PP, why would she purposely get knocked up so she can abort the fetus and let the organization sell it off for spare parts, when she can just whip out her checkbook?
But then, we are talking about a guy who once proudly made a campaign theme out of his “gotcha!” assertion that a human fetus can’t turn into a donkey or a cat, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.
Or check out Rubio’s economic plan. The other night he told pumpkin-headed Fox News host Sean Hannity that the people in this country are “frustrated” because their political leaders aren’t talking about how to pay down the national debt. He also mentioned that he ran for the Senate in 2010 “against the establishment my own party” because it wasn’t paying attention to such an important issue.
Rubio is so impassioned over the debt that he has proposed tax reform that would explode it to levels that even George W. Bush might only see in his nightmares. Last April he partnered with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to unveil a complicated plan that a Tax Foundation analysis found will add $4 trillion to the debt over the first 10 years and not pay for itself for a full 25 years after being passed. And to even do that, the plan has to assume yearly GDP growth at a level not seen since the 1960s.
In short, if your main goal is paying down the national debt, the Rubio-Lee plan is garbage. The irony that Rubio pitches this plan as being something for the people and not the Establishment when he has been spending much of his campaign sucking up to the Establishment is some kind of chutzpah.
Now with his climb in the polls, Rubio’s positions are about to run full-speed into the line of fire of that Republican-destroying cannon known as reality. Deprived of the right-wing media and think-tank bubble in which his plans have incubated, Rubio is likely to suffer the same fate as the recently-departed-from-the-race Scott Walker. He’ll be forced to defend not only his immigration reform policy that pushes off important decisions until he has finished two terms in office, but his dismissive “I’m not a scientist, man” response to climate change and an attitude toward Cuba that is rapidly completing a 50-year slide into obsolescence, among others.
There is a large chunk of the political and media establishment that can’t believe Rubio could do poorly in a general election. He’s young, telegenic and genial, if you overlook the fact that every time the spotlight is on him he sounds like a nervous teenager spitting out talking points he memorized at his locker just before debate class. If he gets the nomination, the media will have an easy youth-versus-old-person story line to flog in the general against Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. Look, they will say, Rubio is hip! He loves the rap music! His social media team is into comic book movies! He has a full head of hair! The young people as we understand them must relate to him!
The problem is, I’m not sure our media can make Rubio sound less awkward or cover up the fact that all of his policies are old wine in slightly-less-old bottles. But if Donald Trump’s recent slide in the polls holds up and Carly Fiorina is made to account for lying about everything except her name, it will probably try. And when reality intrudes, the GOP base will find someone else’s tires to kick. That should give the other candidates something to look forward to.