Why Marco Rubio’s Gaffe Matters
By: Ben Shapiro
February 8, 2016
Marco Rubio has always been too slick for school. In 2012, I attended the Republican National Convention in Tampa, and tried to track down the rising star for a brief interview; he was booked up the entire time, but I eventually caught up with him as he rushed down a stairwell with his entourage. I asked him two or three questions – questions that were not particularly challenging – and he uncomfortably rattled off some canned answers.
Then he and his entourage raced out of the stairwell to his next interview.
So I didn’t watch his “glitch” against Chris Christie with much surprise. For those who missed it, Rubio explained to the audience early in the debate:
Let’s dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. Barack Obama is undertaking a systematic effort to change this country, to make America more like the rest of the world.
After Christie attacked Rubio, Rubio then repeated the same line again:
Let’s dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He is trying to change this country. He wants America to become more like the rest of the world. We don’t want to be like the rest of the world, we want to be the United States of America.
Christie then smacked him:
Marco, the thing is this. When you’re president of the United States, when you’re a governor of a state, the memorized 30-second speech where you talk about how great America is at the end of it doesn’t solve one problem for one person.
And Rubio, unbelievably, answered thusly:
Chris, your state got hit by a massive snowstorm two weeks ago. You didn’t even want to go back. They had to shame you into going back. And then you stayed there for 36 hours and then he left and came back to campaign. Those are the facts. Here’s the bottom line. This notion that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing is just not true. He knows exactly what he’s doing.
Christie hit back:
There it is. There it is. The memorized 25-second speech. There it is, everybody.
And Rubio, incredibly, said it again:
Well, that’s the — that’s the reason why this campaign is so important. Because I think this notion — I think this is an important point. We have to understand what we’re going through here. We are not facing a president that doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows what he is doing. That’s why he’s done the things he’s done.
The media responded, predictably, with shock at this massive blunder. Some of that is unfair – all candidates repeat themselves on the campaign trail.
But some of this gaffe blowback is actually justified. The glossy sheen of Rubio’s high-falutin’ rhetoric suddenly fell apart before the entire nation; Rubio looked like the high school Republican Club kid awkwardly attempting to make it through an introduction. Rubio’s entire candidacy has been based on two factors: his ability as a rhetorician and his Floyd Mayweather-like defense capability, which frustrates viewers but frustrates opponents more. Christie stripped both.
And Rubio looked like what he is: an overmatched politician with conservative leanings but a tendency to buckle under pressure.
And his record bears that out. When the establishment pressured Rubio to abandon his position on immigration and embrace a leading role in pushing the Gang of Eight bill, he did it – until he received too much pressure from the other side, and backed down. Rubio still has no capacity to explain all of that away honestly, instead falling back on ridiculous arguments like “ISIS changed everything.”
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That one moment gravely hurt Rubio with his two most powerful constituencies: conservatives worried about electability, and establishment-types forced into abandoning Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich. Conservatives realized what it was that worried them about Rubio all along – can he be trusted when the pedal hits the metal? – and establishment types started reconsidering whether to push their alternative candidates.
So yes, this moment will hurt Rubio. Like Rick Perry’s “oops” moment, it underscored precisely his vulnerabilities. Gaffes are generally moments of truth in campaigns of falsehood. If so, Rubio’s gaffe matters.