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Maybe saying Marco Rubio is clueless is a little harsh, but the most recent did debate did confirm a lot of my fears about him, even if his chief critic was blatantly hypocritical.
The issue of readiness to be the president came up, leading to an exchange between Marco Rubio and Chris Christie in which Christie intimated that Rubio is just a Republican version of Obama. But what really sunk Rubio was his endless repetition of the same talking point. He even responded to Christie pointing that out by repeating the same canned lines again. I imagine it must have been very painful to strong Rubio fans. But pretending it doesn’t bring a serious flaw to light won’t make that flaw vanish.
The problem with Rubio is that he’s a good public speaker, but that doesn’t automatically translate to presidential ability. It’s been clear from watching his past performances that he cuts and pastes parts of his stump speech into debates. The question that mattered was whether he was able to do that so eloquently because he knew what he was talking about or because he was well-trained. Last night was significant evidence for the latter.
It was especially devastating for Rubio because it spoils his greatest comparative advantage. It wasn’t just a “Maybe Marco doesn’t get monetary policy as much as he’d like us to think?” moment, it was a moment many people will remember when they’re next tempted to nod their heads in agreement with him as he waxes eloquent.
He was like the kid at the Science Fair who delivers a great presentation for a great project, but gets so flustered when the judges ask questions that it soon becomes obvious the parents did the project for him. It is far more discrediting than just forgetting what your fifth step was.
That said, all of them have the same problem with canned sound bites over real knowledge. In fact, the great irony was that Christie was bashing Rubio’s repetitiveness while looking into the camera and telling people that governors are way cooler than senators — the skit he does every single time he has the chance.
If we want to fix politics, we have to look beyond the appearance of skill to discover if the skill is actually there. In the end, procedural democracy can’t function in a world of 140 characters. When candidates are bashing talking points as a talking point, we need to spot that, too.