Why Marcobot really hurts

There’s political gaffes and there’s political gaffes.  Far and away the worst are those that reinforce (or even worse help to create) a media narrative about a politician.  Al Gore could have said any number of stupid things and he was never going to be painted as ignorant– he was going to be framed by the media as a liar.  John Kerry could have said something intemperate and outrageous, but it would be noted for it’s possible “flip-flop” character, not for being intemperate.  Without a doubt, the media develops a conventional wisdom/narrative on candidates and they very much like to tell their stories through this lens.  When it is a negative narrative, the last thing you want to do is help them out.  Classic example– the reason Rick Perry’s “oops” moment was so devastating was because he was already seen as an intellectual lightweight.

Anyway, Ezra Klein is all over it in the case of the Marcobot performance on Saturday:

There’s a good case to be made that Rubio’s glitch at the debate won’t matter. As my colleague Andrew Prokop notes, Cruz was thought to have had a bad debate right before the Iowa caucuses, but he won anyway. And who knows? Maybe Republican voters agree with Rubio that it’s of paramount important to establish that Obama is an evil genius rather than a bumbling fool.

But I think it will matter, and the reason it will matter is that this is what the other campaigns have been privately saying about Marco Rubio all along — that he just isn’t ready to be the nominee. Before Saturday, it was a convincing enough message that the Republican Party hadn’t united around Rubio, despite the obvious benefits of doing so. After Saturday, the argument has a lot more force.

Gaffes matter when they confirm underlying doubts about a candidate. That’s why Rick Perry’s “oops” moment echoed so far and wide — it validated suspicions that Perry wasn’t quite up to the rigors of the campaign. If the same thing had happened to Romney, it would’ve been a one-day story, because Romney was a PowerPoint presentation reincarnated as a human being — no one believed he couldn’t remember a bullet-pointed list of three items.

Rubio’s stumble on Saturday was an “oops” moment; it confirmed underlying doubts about his candidacy — doubts that the rival campaigns have been whispering in Republican ears for months now, with surprising success… [emphasis mine]

This doesn’t mean Rubio is finished, of course. He’s hardly the first promising primary candidate to stumble amid the heat of the race, and this is hardly the worst crisis a promising candidate has ever faced…

If Rubio really is as good a candidate as he’s seemed at certain times in this race, he has plenty of time to prove that Saturday night was an aberration and win the nomination. But insofar as he was hoping to unite the party around him after New Hampshire, that’s no longer going to happen.

Fatal to his campaign?  Of course not.  But is this going to color future reporting about him for the rest of the campaign?  Almost assuredly.  That’s why this hurts so bad. In fact, here’s the lede from last night’s Post story about his campaign:

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Marco Rubio delivered his closing argument in New Hampshire Monday night — and gave his opponents more fodder for attacks in the process.

Appearing in Nashua at his final campaign rally before Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary, the Florida senator made a point that he often makes on the campaign trail about instilling values in children. Then, he made it again, using nearly identical words. This came just two days after Rubio took heavy criticism for repeating himself in a televised debate. He appeared to realize that he was repeating himself toward the end of his Monday remark.

The Post story the day before referred to Rubio’s “robotic” debate performance.  I’ve never seen Rubio referred to as robotic before this weekend.  Or, as Kevin Drum smartly commented:

Unfortunately, now that Christie has pointed out Rubio’s index-card habit, everyone is going to be looking for it on every other subject too. Reporters will be combing through his debates and stump speeches looking for canned talking points, and then doing side-by-side comparisons as if he’s an author being accused of plagiarism.

Yes, yes, yes.  The whole way reporters are going to approach Rubio going forward has changed.  And in a way that makes his road ahead substantially harder.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

9 Responses to Why Marcobot really hurts

  1. Jon K says:

    I heard an interesting interview with Glen Thrush of Politico on the Marcobot subject. Apparently the other candidates loathe Rubio almost as much they do Cruz. What we saw at the debate was an expression of feelings that the other campaigns have been expressing on background to reporters for months. Now that Rubio has helped them advance this Marcobot frame in such a compelling fashion.

    As someone who sees Rubio as the GOP version of Obama (junior senator in a hurry with no accomplishments, but can deliver a good preprepared speech) I have to admit how much I enjoyed watching him make it so clear to everyone….

    • Jon K says:

      Either my phone deleted it or I was still half awake but the last sentence of my first paragraph should be: We will now see this being openly pushed by press and the other campaigns now that Rubio has helped them advance this Marcobot frame in such a compelling fashion.

  2. rgbact says:

    And….he’s consistently beating Hillary in polls now. This is nothing more than Marco’s opponents/media being giddy to finally find a small chink in Rubio’s armor. Every candidate has them. Did you know that Obama says “ugh” and rambles alot? He also uses a teleprompter quite a bit.

    Governors are doing horribly this cycle. I think the “iinexperience” angle against Rubio is far more valid…..trouble is voters don’t seem to really care about executive experience..

    • Jon K says:

      I guess that we didn’t watch the same debate then. It appeared to be as bad as Rick Perry’s oops debacle to me. As has been repeatedly stated before, head to head match ups between republican candidates and democratic candidates are meaningless at this point. They don’t convey any useful or discernable information that says anything about the general election. You are really wasting your time focusing on them.

  3. Jon K. says:

    Looking at exit polling data it is clear that the Marcobot episode seriously damaged Rubio in the NH primary. Reporters have been commenting on how flustered he has been since then. There was one interview with Megan Kelly that tells the tale. I will see if I can find a clip…

    • Jon K says:

      Here we go… Watch Rubio squirm when asked about his “system by which you memorize answers”:

      Marcobot better figure out something quick or his chances will be zero point zero…

      • rgbact says:

        HAHA. Looked like a solid response to me to Megyn. Its fun watching the Rubio haters drooling that they’ve finally found something that they think is a magic bullet to hurt him. So while the non Trumpites argue whether its possible to actually nominate someone with such a horrible horrible flaw as repeating things, despite the fact he leads Hillary in polls……Trump voters vote for Trump no matter what he says. And thats modern politics..

      • Jon K says:

        This is the last time I will point out that – from a political science standpoint – the head to head polls between republicans and Democrats are meaningless at this point. Ask anyone who knows anything about the subject and they will tell you the same thing.

        Polls that do matter – the exit polls from NH – show Rubio in serious trouble.

      • Jon K. says:

        I would also point out that when Megan Kelly is asking Rubio questions about his “system by which you memorize answers” that in and of itself is the problem. Can you not see the presuppositions required for such a question to be even asked? Especially on Fox News?

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