At this juncture I would tend to agree with MSNBC’s Nicole Brown that, rightly or wrongly, “Rubio is the GOPer Democrats fear most…” Tuesday’s debate did nothing to diminish his stature, relative to his admittedly mediocre competition. Ed Kilgore notes at the Washington Monthly, “Marco Rubio was the “winner” according to most Republican assessments (e.g., Politico’s “Caucus” of early-state GOP insiders), partly on style points and partly because he got in the most telling shots at Rand Paul’s heterodoxies on national security.”
James Hohman notes at The Washington Post, “The critical reviews of the Florida senator’s performance are positive across the board, with some dissenters saying he sounded too canned.” Hohman rounds up some other pundits on Rubio’s performance in Milwaukee:
The Fix’s Chris Cillizza: “Rubio knocked it out of the park when debating military spending and the right role for America in the world with Rand Paul. He got a meatball of a question when asked by the moderators about Hillary Clinton’s résumé as compared with his own; he, unsurprisingly, answered it well and easily. Time and time again, he oozed knowledge while appearing entirely relaxed.”
Conservative Post columnist Jennifer Rubin: “Rubio once again had the strongest performance. He shot down Paul’s suggestion that spending on the military makes one ‘liberal’ and repeatedly spoke up in favor of strong U.S. leadership. … Asked about running against an experienced Clinton, he went into his effective riff about representing the future while she represents the past.”
The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin and Patrick Healy: “Rubio was not only able to avoid being drawn into the contentious immigration debate, but also repeatedly received questions that allowed him to answer with versions of his stump speech. Even he seemed unable to believe his good fortune when he was asked to make his case against Clinton. He chuckled for a moment before unspooling a well-rehearsed argument: why he can prosecute a ‘generational’ case against her.”
Rubio does show sporadic flashes of passion and eloquence in presenting his conservative arguments, even though most Democrats probably still visualize him clumsily grasping for a glass of water with shifty eyes. And, as Brown quotes former Obama administration White House communications director, Dan Preiffer, “Rubio is also the most broadly appealing GOP candidate and would have the best shot to close the non-white vote gap with the Democrats.”
Rubio has been hovering around third place, behind Carson and Trump in the most recent polls. Trump drew some boos, or at least groans, from the debate audience last night. It may be that his bully-boy act is beginning to wear thin. Looks to me like Carson is not going to wear well either, when we get to the primaries. He needs a more substantial menu of policies, despite having the least annoying persona of the GOP field.
Democrats will have plenty of material to face down Rubio, if he gets the nomination. As the U.S. Senator with the worst attendance record, Rubio has been able to dodge a lot of criticism by laying relatively low on the most contentious issues for Republicans. Those days are now over. His GOP adversaries will be coming for him in a big way from now on.