From the opening moments of the debate, Mr. Rubio pounced. Deploying his own up-by-the-bootstraps biography, the Florida senator assailed Mr. Trump for hiring hundreds of foreign workers at his tony resort in Florida and passing over Americans who had applied for the same jobs."An American like her"? Well, yes and no. From Marco Rubio's campaign site:
“My mom was a maid in a hotel,” Mr. Rubio said. “And instead of hiring an American like her, you’ve brought over 1,000 people from all over the world to fill in those jobs instead.”
Marco’s mother, Oria Rubio, was approved for an immigration visa in Havana, Cuba at the U.S. Embassy on May 18, 1956. She arrived in Miami, Florida on May 27, 1956 with Marco’s dad, Mario. She became a naturalized citizen of the United States on November 5, 1975.So she was here for nineteen years before she became a U.S. citizen. According to Rubio's memoir, she worked as a maid both before and after becoming a citizen. But for nearly two decades she wasn't "an American" -- she was a non-citizen immigrant living and working in America.
But did Rubio's attacks on Trump last night have an effect? The consensus over at Fox is summed up in the headline Fox Nation gives to a Doug Schoen column at FoxNews.com:
The Marco Rubio Everyone Had Been Waiting For Finally Woke Up At Houston Debate ... But It's Still a Trump WorldSchoen lavishes praise on Rubio:
He was sharp, articulate, cutting, passionate and bold.....But it doesn't matter:
But what was different on Thursday night was that Rubio showed real backbone.
... it won’t be enough to change the alignment of the candidates....In a Frank Luntz focus group on Fox, the respondents said Rubio won the debate -- but when Luntz polled the group and Rubio won by acclamation, Luntz said:
More so than with any other candidate, Trump’s voters make up their minds early. They are committed to him and after big wins in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, Trump has shown that his base will turn out to vote for him even though they’re largely from groups that don’t typically vote in primaries (lower income, high school educated). And with leads in every Super Tuesday state except for Texas where Cruz is slightly ahead, there’s no reason to think that Thursday night’s debate changes the trajectory.
... it’s a Trump world and the rest of the candidates are just living in it. We better get used to it.
And yet what I don't understand is you've all been talking about Trump for the last ten minutes. Why is Trump dominating the converation?That's Rubio's problem in a nutshell. He didn't win as Rubio. He won as the guy who attacked Trump. Later in the clip (which I can't embed), Luntz asks, "What is it about Rubio that he did so well?" Two people answer: "He was able to attack Trump." Even when Rubio wins, he wins being defined by Trump. He doesn't come off as his own man.
Frankly, he doesn't come off as a man at all. One woman who talks about Rubio describes him this way:
Rubio is charming. He's got a little boyish face, he come across as just that all-American boy.While a man who's skeptical about him says this:
Rubio's a great orator. It was like student council tonight. But didn't we just elect an orator twice in a row? How do you feel about that?Republicans have two contradictory views of President Obama -- he's an all-powerful totalitarian willfully destroying America, and he's a feckless lightweight who's completely overmatched, even though he's pretty good at reading speeches off Teleprompters. This man invokes the latter image to condemn Rubio. That's not good for Marco.
At The New York Times, Frank Bruni writes this:
Almost each of [Rubio's] attacks on Trump made good sense. All were entirely fair. But as they piled up higher than even the most majestic Trump-envisioned border wall could ever reach, he came across as strident, mocking, condescending, bratty.I'll agree with "bratty." Rubio never comes off as an grown-up. (Trump is infantile, but comes off as an adult who's childish.)
And it was impossible not to wonder if he was doing precisely what Chris Christie had when he tried to take Rubio down in the debate just before the New Hampshire primary: bloodying his adversary at a cost of seriously wounding himself.
... when music gets that ugly, everyone involved can wind up sounding equally bad....
What’s more, Rubio undercut his considerable efforts so far to be -- and to label himself as -- the candidate of optimism, uplift, positivity.
As for the rest of what Bruni writes, I don't think Rubio comes off as dark and angry the way Christie did -- he doesn't have enough depth. He's a pretty boy, but he's an uncharismatic one.
Molly Ivins wrote that Michael Dukakis "has got no Elvis"; Rubio isn't quite Dukakis, but he doesn't have much Elvis. He's young the way JFK and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were when they ran, but he never comes off as wise or sage the way Obama in particular can, and he doesn't have the touch of bad boy that JFK and Clinton did. All could seem mature and steady, despite their youth. Rubio lacks that ability. He just seems like a really bright kid giving a speech and struggling to stand up straight. (Go back to the video of last night and watch him fidget during the national anthem.)
Rubio might have hurt Trump a little bit, though I think it's too late for that. But he still didn't give enough Republican voters enough reason to vote for Rubio. I'm not sure he can.
But before you ask: Yes, I still think Rubio would win a general election against either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. At that point Rubio would have the entire GOP Establishment behind him, as well as the mainstream media. He'd have a huge money advantage if his opponent was the super-PAC-less Sanders. And while Rubio can seem like a politician with only enough talent to thrive in the minors, Clinton clearly isn't a natural politician at all. And she'll have trouble making him look like a callow little boy the way Trump does -- the risk is that, if she tries that, sexists in the GOP, the media, and the electorate will say she comes off as a nagging old hag. He'd still win. But he's probably too weak a primary candidate to get the chance this year.