Throughout the current presidential race, the GOP side has appeared as a traveling circus of predominantly white men (and one woman) in suits, who all try to “out-controversy” each other. One lone candidate, Marco Rubio, appears to be the most “normal” of the bunch. He’s a spunky fellow at age 44 and a first-term senator. His Congressional attendance record is spotty, but Rubio is still the “likable” guy of the Republican candidates. He appeals to the younger crowd (and their hip-hop music, although he still can’t name a Wu-Tang member). He can also nab the Hispanic vote.
Unlike Donald Trump, Rubio has recently softened (some say flip-flopped on) his immigration stance to broaden his voter base. Despite offending some conservatives in this way, Rubio has still managed to hop back into good graces — by angering gay-marriage supporters and pro-life advocates (he said abortion should never be allowed even in cases of rape or incest) — which places him squarely in the sweet spot for Christian conservatives. Of course, this is an oversimplification of his platform, much like Rubio’s views on gun control and ISIS. He’s an uncomplicated candidate with a straightforward way of speaking. He’s passionate, articulate, usually unflappable, and (unlike Ted Cruz) he appears at ease with his family. Rubio would never do this while nailing a family photo.
Rubio’s campaign videos paint him as the candidate who Democrats don’t want to run against. Indeed, this narrative is easy to believe when Rubio stands next to Cruz or Donald Trump, which make Rubio look like the ideal (and least embarrassing) Republican. He’s “tough” and holds strong conservative views, which are masked by a golden-boy exterior. Along with holding the aforementioned Latino vote, Rubio can influence a swing state like Florida and stand up against Hillary Clinton without flinging insults.
Carefully crafted ads — along with Rubio’s polished verbal delivery at speeches and debates — like these helped him quietly advance to an Iowa surge. However, the cracks began to show, ironically, right after this greatest success. The damage appears to grow worse every day and reached a new height on Monday, but let’s move somewhat chronologically. A few weeks ago at the Fox News GOP Debate, Megyn Kelly ruffled Rubio by calling him out on his wishy-washy immigration stance. He stumbled a bit, but Kelly later praised Rubio as “smooth.” This followup interview happened after Chris Christie referred to Rubio as “the boy in the bubble” for his “canned” rhetoric.
Last Saturday in New Hampshire, Rubio’s well-rehearsed presence began to visibly short circuit. After he (unlike most of the other GOP guys) walked in a straight line onto the stage, something went very wrong with Rubio. Even after Christie slammed Rubio for repeating the same points — nearly verbatim — Rubio still rehashed the same line five times: “And 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.” The first time Rubio said this, it separated him from the rest of the GOP candidates (who say Obama is clueless). The next several times made him a laughing stock.
The Sunday talk-show crowd hammered Rubio. One of his old pals, Ana Navarro of Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, expressed disbelief at Rubio’s debate debacle. Navarro called Rubio an “excellent candidate” until the New Hampshire debate, but then it was “like there was a robot with water poured into it … a short circuit.” There’s the unavoidable robot terminology.
Ah yes, the famous Rubiobot criticism has gone mainstream. He needs a reboot or “a software update.”
All of this could have simply ruined the New Hampshire primary, for there’s another GOP debate coming this Saturday. Rubio could have put his head down and ignored the jokes, but they appear to have affected him. On Monday, Roboto returned when Rubio delivered this speech passage:
“We are taking our message to families that are struggling to raise their children in the 21st century because, as you saw, Jeanette and I are raising our four children in the 21st century, and we know how hard it’s become to instill our values in our kids instead of the values they try to ram down our throats.”
Then Rubio repeated himself in a painful replay of last weekend’s GOP debate:
“In the 21st century, it’s becoming harder than ever to instill in your children the values they teach in our homes and in our church instead of the values that they try to ram down our … throats in the movies, in music, in popular culture.”
The video evidence is just brutal. At 0:26, Rubio realizes what is happening, and he tries to stop but cannot.
All of the “robot” jokes aren’t new but have picked up steam, thanks to Christie’s attack on Rubio. A few days before the New Hampshire debate meltdown, two jokesters — Eddie Vale and Kevin McAlister — wore “Marco Roboto” costumes outside a town-hall event. These were crafted in response to Christie’s words. After two very public, short-circuit meltdowns confirmed this reputation, Rubio’s image may never recover.
If Rubio can return to his more innocent, water-guzzling days of yesteryear, perhaps voters can remember that he requires hydration. So, he’s clearly not a cyborg. Or one can hope.