Now that Marco Rubio has vaulted himself into a front-running distant third place in the poll for the 2016 Republican nomination, he’s starting to come under harsher scrutiny from the press and his opponents in the GOP field. For the moment, the focal point of that criticism is Rubio’s personal finances, as the New York Times reported this morning:
A decade after he began using a Republican Party credit card for personal purchases like paving stones at his home, Senator Marco Rubio on Wednesday pledged to disclose new spending records from that account as he sought to inoculate himself against what could be his biggest liability as a presidential candidate: how he manages his finances.
The paper goes on to note that Rubio’s fellow aspirants for the Republican nomination “are rushing to resurrect the matter in an attempt to portray him as a careless money manager.” Donald Trump is “suggesting that the senator struggled to live within his means,” the Times writes, adding that the “risk” for Rubio is that this credit card issue “may become a symbol of a larger pattern of financial challenges in his recent past.”
Come on. The problem revealed by Rubio’s shady history with state party credit cards isn’t that Rubio is bad at “managing his finances” – it’s that he’s a weasel who cashed in on his position of (limited) authority. The image of Rubio as a poor money manager with massive debt isn’t as damaging as his opponents and the press might think. Pretty much everyone in the country has trouble handling debt, and far too many people are carrying way too high a balance on their credit cards. Framing it in these terms just allows Rubio to make the point that he’s not wealthy and he copes with the same financial difficulties as everyone else. The damning part of all this is that he abused resources made available to him as Speaker. I’m not especially bothered that Rubio can’t balance his checkbook, but I do care that he’s a corruptible sneak.
(However, if reporters and Rubio’s opponents are looking for a way to make his personal financial troubles relevant, try bringing them up the next time Rubio justifies a balanced budget amendment by saying the government must balance its books just like American families do.)
But that’s still not Rubio’s “biggest liability as a presidential candidate.” I tend to think it’s a little more significant that much of Rubio’s policy platform is based on lies and discredited economic theories. Just today he released his plan for exploding the military budget well beyond its current levels as part of his neoconservative foreign policy vision to pick fights and spread freedom at gunpoint. He’s going to provoke international conflicts and preside over a vast expansion of defense spending while also blowing a hole in the budget by slashing tax rates, eliminating taxes on investments, and creating new tax credits for the middle class. The last Republican president implemented a more modest version of this policy agenda, and the results – intractable military quagmires, exploding inequality, huge deficits – left him so widely reviled that he put himself in political exile, where he remains to this day.
And, of course, Rubio is still moving to the right on immigration in an attempt to mollify conservatives who disowned him for his past heresies on “amnesty.” He’s running to be the nominee of a party in desperate need of support from minority voters, and to secure that nomination he’s inching closer and closer to the immigration position of the party’s nativist wing. Seems like a pretty serious problem!
So if you want to focus on Rubio’s credit card shenanigans and his past life as a small-time charlatan, go right ahead. Just don’t do him the favor of believing that’s his biggest weakness as a would-be president.