I didn’t really grow up in the South, but then again, neither did Marco Rubio. (As all good geographers know, Miami is officially somewhere in the Middle Atlantic, in an indeterminate and ever-shifting place between Metuchen and Washington Heights, like the island from LOST.) But we both know the quintessentially Southern importance of good manners and due deference to elders. Marco is the Student Body Vice President who comes over and charms your mom by saying, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Cummings. You have a lovely home.”
Which is why he can’t really be brought to say a bad word about a certain Manhattan real estate billionaire—“I’ve made a decision here with Donald Trump, you know,” he recently admitted, after the gold lamé banana husk of a candidate said bad things about Megyn Kelly’s menstrual cycle. “If I comment on everything he says, I mean, my whole campaign will be consumed by it. That’s all I’ll do all day.” Nor can he really bite the hand of his hoped-for future running mate, fellow Floridian damp squib Jeb Bush. Senator Rubio is nothing if not well-behaved, which is to say—he’s nothing.
Have so many gratuitously generous pixels ever been wasted on describing so undeserving a subject? Marco Rubio is the second coming of Barack Obama, Jesus, and Menudo all wrapped into one, we’re told. Because he’s young, not terrible-looking, and sort-of not-white, we are to believe that he can lead the Republican Party out of the wilderness of shrinking demographics and its own self-imposed right-wing ghettoization.
True, he may be a decent choice for warming up the crowd at the local branch of the Special Libraries Association of Orlando, but rumors of Sen. Rubio’s political charisma have been greatly exaggerated. This guy stumbled ass-first into a Senate seat, thanks to the anti-Obamacare, revanchist wave of 2010 and the spectacularly dysfunctional politics that saw a former Republican governor of Florida lurch into his own recursive fractal of political irrelevance. (Is there anything Charlie Crist can’t lose? I remember him gratuitously frenching his fiancée in an elevator in 2008, to somehow telegraph to future President McCain that he was straight and available as a running mate.)
To be fair, it could be said that Subcomandante Obama landed ass-first into success in much the same way: who still remembers that all of his primary opponents in the 2004 Senate race imploded? That his GOP opponent got in trouble for asking 7 of 9 from Star Trek Voyager to do weird sex stuff, and the Republicans had to import Alan Keyes’s sorry ass from Maryland to pose a perfunctory challenge to the wet-behind-the-ears wunderkind from Hawaii? Barack Obama got lucky in many ways, facing off with fatally flawed opponents at every step. He had the good fortune to run against a RINO who recruited a brain-damaged hillbilly from Alaska who had never read a magazine as a running mate in 2008—amid a historic economic collapse brought on by the mismanagement of a GOP incumbent, no less—while in 2012 he got the opportunity to beat the human incarnation of Scrooge McDuck like a rented mule.
Obama at least had something to offer. He was not, as they say in Texas, all hat and no cattle. When has Rubio ever done anything of any consequence, or displayed an acute political sense in any way, shape, or form? Apart from buying an $80,000 boat with other people’s money, I can’t think of much. (And yes, the boat story is small-ball, petty stuff, but the fact that his owning an $80,000 boat is the only thing I can think of him having accomplished says something.)
Rubio’s lone moment of political courage came when he gingerly supported immigration reform, at a time when the GOP was supposedly doing a searing self-reflection (also known as an “autopsy”) and thought they should do some kind of sop to brown people so Hispanic voters would forget everything that’s happened in American politics since Ronald Reagan revealed himself to be an amnestista almost thirty years ago.
How did that go? Rubio shriveled up like a Siberian penis when it became clear that the Tea Party base would never countenance the idea of “conservative” immigration reform that somehow allowed 11 or 12 million people in this country to be actual members of society. I remember the ads that aired on Rush Limbaugh’s show, when whatever shadowy GOP-affiliated groups were trying to float the idea that a path to citizenship could be suitably tough and vicious enough to pass conservative muster. As an old political saying goes, that dog don’t hunt.
Rubio learned this little lesson to his eternal dismay, although he still seems to think he’s got a shot at vice president this time or, more likely, the top job when an aged President Clinton 2.0 is back on the hustings in 2020. Marco’s youth may not be the political asset that gullible reporters apparently believe it is, but it does the one critical thing that only youth can do: it gives him time. Biden doesn’t have that luxury, God bless him. If Rubio unexpectedly manages to accomplish anything of significance or distinguish himself in any way other than being a handsome young man in a nice suit in the next few years, then maybe his political future will be brighter, later.
According to the normally sedulous Jamelle Bouie of Slate, Rubio was indisputably the winner of the first debate, because he is “a gifted communicator” and “doesn’t have rabies.” But being the winner of this debate is sort of like joining in an hours-long orgy with the Duggar family and being the one who doesn’t walk away with chlamydia. Anyway, what limited evidence we have suggests that Trump still came out of the debate ahead of his rivals, and if anything, Ted Cruz may have made the most headway. In Atlanta, being a well-spoken young man and $2.50 will get you on the bus.
In the meantime, young Marco may want to work on shaking the money tree a little harder, given that he can’t best Trump or Cruz in the gonzo histrionics department. Five years after the Supreme Court opened the big ol’ money spigot with Citizens United, a billionaire sugar daddy is the must-have accessory for any GOP candidate (except for Trump, of course, who shakes no money tree but his own—as he snidely reminded former welfare recipient and allegedly brave Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul at the start of the debate). Back in 2012, Newt Gingrich had Likudnik casino sleazeball Shelly Adelson, while Rick Santorum had Foster “Aspirin is murder” Friess. Rubio has a patron of his own in the form of Miami billionaire Norman Braman. Norm has bankrolled young Marco (and his wife!) since before Stephanie from Full House even knew what meth was. (The New York Times has the whole sordid story of Rubio’s “father figure” here.) Like a Dickensian landlord picking up a cockney street orphan and waiting patiently to launch his protégé into the upper echelons of power, Braman made an investment. Ever heard a story where someone doesn’t call a favor like this in? You tell me.
Rubio’s corporate owners better hope they’ve invested in something more than a Madlib. Because that is basically what the Florida Senator is: he’s a placeholder, a cipher. He is evidently young, supposedly smart and charismatic, and he’s surrounded by racist lunatics. So I guess we have to take him seriously? Or pretend to, at least, for a while? Who else are we going to take seriously—Carly Fiorina? Alright, whatever. At least Rubio never got a golden parachute for destroying a company. Marco cuts out the middleman of actually working and just takes the money.
Indeed, the GOP’s young savior is a less-than-one-term Senator who has done absolutely nothing with his life, and who might even have to give up his seat to the hated liberal Alan “Taliban Dan” Grayson if things go really badly/wonderfully in 2016. If all this seems overly abusive, riddle me this: is there a single reason in the universe why Marco Rubio ought to be taken seriously? Has he shown the political acumen of a young Barack Obama, or even the dingbat George W. Bush—who, however dumb or destructive he might have been, knew how to play himself some nasty, hardball politics? At this time eight years ago, Obama was down nearly 20 points in the polls, but the cerebral novice figured out how to slay the most powerful Democratic political machine since the Kennedys. Do we really expect the same from Rubio? The question answers itself.
Alex Sayf Cummings is the author of Democracy of Sound: Music Piracy and the Remaking of American Copyright in the Twentieth Century (Oxford, 2013) and an editor at MoS’s sister blog, Tropics of Meta.