Lots of praise for this clip from conservative writers over the past 48 hours. David French calls it a rare profound moment on the trail; the headline for Stephen Kruiser’s piece at PJM describes it as possibly the best answer ever given by a Republican on religion. It’s a showcase for Rubio’s particular political talent the same way the now famous clip of Chris Christie talking about addiction was a showcase for Christie’s. Normally I’d headline a video like this “Rubio versus atheist questioner,” but that’s the point — he refuses to let this guy, who’s civil but obviously skeptical of him using religion in his ads, bait him into antagonism towards atheists. Us-and-them cultural shtick is Cruz’s game, per “New York values.” Rubio is the would-be uniter. The most effective bit is the last 45 seconds where he makes the case that even atheists should hope that he’s influenced in office by his Christian faith. As a scripted response, it would be sharp. Off the cuff, in reply to a question, it’s exceptionally deft. If you like Rubio — and I do, despite some of his whinier fans constantly grousing at me for criticizing him — his skill and tone here are why you like him even if you don’t share his beliefs. This isn’t the first time that he’s knocked Christians out with a defense of his faith either. Last month in Iowa he went for 10 full minutes on the subject to a roomful of pastors, leaving CBN contributor David Brody praising his answer as a “thing of beauty.” I know Mike Huckabee thinks he’d have cornered the market on evangelical voters this year if Cruz hadn’t run, but watch this. I’m not so sure.
My criticism here isn’t even a criticism, really, just an observation, which is that Rubio’s rhetorical talent has never been in question. That he’s capable of an answer like this under pressure has always been priced into his stock. I get the sense from some Rubio fans (not all, just some) that they think the fact that he can do this better than anyone else in the field is reason enough to support him. Lay aside immigration; lay aside hyperinterventionism; lay aside sugar cronyism and campus Star Chamber tribunals and everything else. Isn’t this the guy you want at the podium defending the Republican agenda? To which I say: The policies have to matter more than the message, don’t they? Otherwise those Obama comparisons start to feel more apt than they should.