Sunday, November 1, 2015

Rubio scores with rhetoric and (gasp) truth

I'm very impressed with part of Rubio's performance in the recent debate. He took down criticism of a local paper, the debate moderators, and Jeb Bush, and he did it very well and cleanly.

This was perhaps the most talked-about moment in the debate. Rubio was able to turn the tables on Jeb Bush after Bush attacked him. It's worth looking at how Rubio did this.(Video here, transcript here.)

The moderator referred to recent criticism that Rubio is skipping a lot votes in the Senate while he's campaigning. Rubio handled this so deftly that it should be a blueprint for others. He said:
"in 2004, John Kerry ran for president missing close to 60 to 70 percent of his votes. I don't recall the Sun -- in fact, the Sun-Sentinel endorsed him. In 2008, Barack Obama missed 60 or 70 percent of his votes, and the same newspaper endorsed him again."
Then Jeb Bush piled on, saying he was criticizing him as a constituent. This is how Rubio answered him:
"'re modeling your campaign after John McCain... You know how many votes John McCain missed when he was carrying out that furious comeback that you're now modeling after? ...I don't remember you ever complaining about John McCain's vote record. The only reason why you're doing it now is because we're running for the same position, and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you."
How Rubio turned the tables

First, Rubio didn't deny that he was missing votes, He didn't get defensive about why it was OK for him to be missing votes. Instead, he pointed out the important issues facing the country, implying (correctly) that's where the focus should be, not on a tiny non-issue of a senator missing non-important votes:
"For the first time in 35 years, we have more businesses closing than starting. We have a world that's out of control and has grown dangerous and a president that is weakening our military and making our foreign policy unstable and unreliable in the eyes of our allies."
He also didn't get whiny, with his focus on the unfairness of it all. His focus was on the argument being made, and how weak it was.

Rubio pointed out the same newspaper that complained about him endorsed both Kerry and Obama for president, even though both missed many more votes than Rubio did. The clear implication is that 'missing votes' was a smokescreen, showing the complaint was likely a partisan attack, not a major point of principle. Well done!

When Jeb Bush piled on, Rubio was clearly ready. "Someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you" is a very raw truth, and it definitely rings true. Bush is not politically very different from Rubio, so his attacks aren't going to be on major issues, but on minor kinks that he'll need to exaggerate in an attempt to gain an advantage.

Don't sweat the small stuff

The truth is that missing Senate votes isn't generally a huge issue for the few senators who are campaigning. However, it's used as an attack because it shows that the candidate isn't PERFECT. Well, duh, we know that. Candidates get into trouble by pretending they are perfect. Rubio definitely avoided this pitfall. Other candidates would be wise to study and learn that technique.

So what is the blueprint for handling attacks? If it's a nothingburger complaint, as this one was, point out how shallow it is, and how hypocritical your opponent is for making such an attack. Of course, this means that you have to live by that standard. I hope Rubio does, as I would hope that all candidates would.

Note that this strategy doesn't help with the big attacks on big issues. That's so different that it has to be a different post.



Dangerous said...

Missing votes is a non-issue, particularly for a Senator running for president. It's a slow curve which never hurts, so Rubio leaned into it and got a free base for it with no pain. Bush was stupid for hitting him, but Bush is a terrible candidate -- as we've now discovered -- so Rubio is probably going to pick up some of the "establishment" support he seems to want.

But he's still an insider funded personally and politically by a few close wealthy friends, such as Norman Braman, the former Philadelphia Eagles owner and big Florida car dealer. So getting more insider and political cred probably won't help him in this election cycle to win the nomination.

He would have some advantages, at least on paper. He's young so the contrast with Hillary might help him -- if he was actually ready to be president which he isn't. He's Hispanic, which the GOP needs to have any chance of actually winning without an ACTUAL failing economy to slam at every turn, but he's Cuban which doesn't necessary translate to a more broad appeal to all Hispanics. And his policy prescription are straight GOP party line.

But I don't think the GOP establishment is ready to turn over the keys to the kingdom to a non-white candidate. They know they lose some of their core support of racists and haters, even if the candidate might say all the right things. The GOP might nominate a Thatcher-style woman at some point, but it's the ultimate old-boys club and BUSINESS interests comes first. They would only nominate Rubio if they thought we was their only chance to win, and it's hard to see them convincing rank-and-file party activists that that is the case.

Frankly, it's more like that Ted Cruz will rest the nomination from the party in a coup than Rubio receiving it as a gift, and apart from style there's barely any difference between them on policy.

I'm still sticking with the notion of a brokered convention at long last, just because the voters won't be able to decide. Hanging around is in every candidate's interest as long as nobody's an obvious favorite, and I don't think any candidate will get over 30% of the vote in any primary until they are under 8 candidates.

ModeratePoli said...

@dangerous, I think you're dead wrong that the GOP establishment wouldn't pick a Hispanic. You'll probably be proved wrong since he's likely to win the nomination (in my opinion).

Maybe you'll be right about a brokered convention--we'll just have to see. It will be so strange but definitely historic. If Cruz, Carson, or Trump win the nomination, it will show that the party has been taken over by the peasants. That would be so weird for the party of business. I'm hoping against that, since I'd like a modicum of sanity in both parties.