The golden boy from Florida isn’t so golden anymore.
After receiving nearly a week of hype and momentum coming out of Iowa with a third place finish, Marco Rubio found himself finishing a very distant fifth place in New Hampshire — right behind his former mentor/current nemesis Jeb Bush.
It was pretty clear what was the primary culprit for the poor showing on Tuesday night — Rubio’s major malfunction at Saturday’s debate. Even he acknowledged that fact in his post-primary concession speech, and he promised he would never do that again. To drive that point home, Marco repeated it three times, which ironically further encouraged the image of him as an overly-rehearsed empty suit.
The result was certainly a depressing one for Rubio’s devoted conservative fanbase. In the two days between the debate and the primary, several conservatives were trying to, in Rubio speak, dispel the notion his repetition hurt him. Best expressed by Erick Erickson in an article entitled “The Marco Rubio Robot Bull,” the argument went that Saturday’s mishap would come across to voters as the Florida senator strongly staying on message.
That fails to recognize Rubio kept repeating a line Dinesh D’Souza would’ve thought up at his least creative point and had no connection to what was being discussed on stage.
Even with Rubio’s dismal finish, his sympathizers in the media have tried to put on a happy face. The Weekly Standard published an article less than two hours after the polls closed exclaiming “Marco’s Moment is Now.”
As The Week’s Michael Brendan Dougherty has observed, Rubio’s fans have tried to say every development of the election is the Cuban-American’s time to shine. Saying the massive disappointment of finishing behind Jeb Bush is now Rubio’s moment just takes the meme to a ludicrous extreme.
The Weekly Standard wasn’t alone in the attempt to find the upside of Rubio’s defeat as National Review Online ran as its morning lead, “Marco Rubio’s New Challenges.”
It’s unfortunately par the course for this spin to come out of New Hampshire. For months — and arguably even years — conservative media has covered Rubio in a manner more reminiscent of Harry Potter fan fiction than that of sober political analysis.
For those who might be unaware of what fan fiction is, it’s a semi-popular literary genre in which aspiring novelists utilize character and material from more popular series like Star Wars, Harry Potter and Twilight for their own heavily derivative creations. The works are often painfully bad and too often spend time worshiping the author’s character of preference. For a perfect example of this style’s quality, “50 Shades of Grey” was originally conceived as Twilight fan fiction.
Instead of teenage girls imagining a boy wizard sweeping them off their feet at Hogwarts, Rubio fan fiction has middle-aged men imagining a boy senator as the conservative Jesus destined to bring about the thousand-year Reagan Republic.
Like all unoriginal fantasy, there’s very common themes in the hyperbolic rhetoric surrounding Rubio:
Rubio Is The Greatest Orator Since Abraham Lincoln
It is undoubtedly true that Rubio, prior to the debate at least, came across as a competent public speaker who had a treasure trove of well-crafted lines. But that doesn’t quite make him the “best speaker we’ve seen since Lincoln,” as radio host Hugh Hewitt described him. The hyperbole surrounding Rubio has been matched by other conservatives — such as one reporter matter-of-factly saying audiences would be angry over a pin dropping when they listen to Marco and various reports of his words eliciting tears from crowds.
However, the debate malfunction undermines the Abraham Lincoln image. Rather than offering informed and inspiring quotes which address the average American’s problems and hopes, Rubio’s rhetoric is now being seen as memorized stump speeches that have more in common with a 5th grader reciting the Gettysburg Address than that of the man who wrote it. (RELATED: Rubio’s Debate Malfunction Undermines His Appeal)
He’ll Win ALL The Hispanics
In case you didn’t already know, Marco Rubio is of Cuban ancestry and can speak Spanish. These two traits have convinced many on the Right that Rubio can win over Hispanics just with these qualities in mind. Last week, syndicated columnist Deroy Murdock wrote in the New York Post that a “candidate of Cuban ancestry, with an immigrant story as vivid as they come, Rubio obviously can appeal to Hispanics.”
Except polls and surveys don’t pair out this assumption. In a head-to-head match-up with the elderly, white, non-Spanish speaking Hillary Clinton, Rubio is trounced by over 20 points among Latinos.
And that’s with many of them not knowing too much about Marco’s agenda.
Rubio advocates for orthodox conservative positions in favor of limited government and foreign interventionism. The majority of Hispanics have a different view. Seventy-five percent of Hispanics prefer bigger government and have been notably opposed to the Iraq war and other examples of the kind of aggressive foreign policy favored by Rubio.
Additionally, Rubio’s Cuban background may not be much of an asset among the majority of Hispanics who hail from Mexico and the rest of Central America.
He’ll Inspire The Youth
Rubio has tried very hard to let everyone know he’s down with the youth and takes every opportunity to cite his love for gangsta rap and electronic dance music. This pop-culture savviness has made his supporters believe he can win over all those young people.
The Washington Post and USA Today dispelled with this fiction in late last year when they discovered the vast majority of his supporters are older folks and he’s closer to an “old person’s idea of a young person” than a conservative Barack Obama who can galvanize the under-50 crowd.
He’s The Republican Savior
Time magazine bequeathed Rubio with the moniker “The Republican Savior” in February 2013 primarily for his role in crafting the not-yet released Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration reform bill and signalling a more moderate Republican Party. While Rubio’s whole time campaigning has been trying to distance himself from his lone legislative achievement of note, conservatives have adopted the “savior” meme to express their hope Rubio can unite the GOP and the conservative movement.
One of the Floridian’s favorite lines on the stump is to say he can do just what his conservative supporters say he can do and bring everybody together for November.
This presumption relies on Republican voters not attributing much worth to Rubio’s involvement with the Gang of Eight. It’s just a minor blemish on his otherwise stellar conservative record. But that continual support for giving illegal aliens citizenship is much more than an insignificant blotch when immigration is one of the core issues of 2016. Donald Trump reached the top of the Republican Party thanks in large part due to his charged comments on the issue, and others like Ted Cruz have made sure to sound tough against illegal immigration in response to Trump’s rise. (RELATED: Gang Of Eight Defines Marco Rubio’s Conservatism)
It’s hard to argue you can be a uniter when you’re on the wrong side of a key issue to Republican voters and some of your sympathizers are giddy at the thought purging large swaths of the Republican Party in the case of a Trump primary defeat.
He’ll Win The Primary By A Landslide
Rubio’s strong credentials on paper made him seem like a smart pick to win the nomination in the pre-Trump halcyon days of the election cycle. Post-Trump’s arrival and the complete shift in the electorate in response made that prediction less assured. However, some commentators were still insistent the senator would dominate the primary.
In September, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat chided those pundits worried about Trump that they’d feel silly when Rubio won every primary. Noted clairvoyant Bill Kristol guaranteed a Rubio/Fiorina ticket in October. Others, such as my colleague Jamie Weinstein, expressed more measured articulations of that sentiment. (RELATED: ANALYSIS: Why Rubio Seems Best Positioned To Win The Republican Nomination)
The’re Doing A Complete 180 On Experience
“Community organizer in chief.” “On the job training.” “No executive experience.”
These were all expressions conservatives used to mock Obama for his inexperience and lack of qualifications. However, Rubio arguably has less experience than Obama when he ran in 2008 but that has apparently not mattered to the Marco fanboys.
They’ve even appropriated the slur that Rubio is the Republican Obama as a positive thing to say about the Florida senator. A Federalist article argued that a GOP version of the current president is exactly what the party needs, and Rubio is totally like that. According to The Federalist writer, Rubio had plenty of charisma, understanding of youth culture and terrific oratory to inspire the nation just like Obama did. In addition, “a lack of experience isn’t that bad.”
To argue Rubio is like Obama requires a belief in all of the myths described above, and they’re not grounded in reality.
After New Hampshire, will Rubio’s conservative fanbase finally dispel with this fiction that Rubio is the candidate of their wildest dreams?