Rubio: I'm not going to hold a town hall just to be heckled by liberal activists

‘Member when the Times touted Rubio in 2010 as “The First Senator from the Tea Party,” a movement that rose to public prominence in part by confronting the opposing party at town halls a year earlier? I ‘member.


He has firsthand experience with liberal activists trying to put him on the spot this month even without having held a town hall. They’ve staked him out at a few places around Miami to confront him on camera about why he hasn’t held an event yet. He’s not wrong either about liberals cribbing from the “Indivisible” pamphlet, a protest guide “full of pointers on how to bird dog their members of Congress in the language of Capitol insiders.” The authors of the pamphlet claim it’s been downloaded more than a million times since December. A few key bits from the section on protesting at town halls:

1. Get there early, meet up, and get organized. Meet outside or in the parking lot for a quick huddle before the event. Distribute the handout of questions, and encourage members to ask the questions on the sheet or something similar.

2. Get seated and spread out. Head into the venue a bit early to grab seats at the front half of the room, but do not all sit together. Sit by yourself or in groups of two, and spread out throughout the room. This will help reinforce the impression of broad consensus.

3. Make your voices heard by asking good questions. When the MoC opens the floor for questions, everyone in the group should put their hands up and keep them there. Look friendly or neutral so that staffers will call on you. When you’re asking a question, remember the following guidelines:

Stick with the prepared list of questions. Don’t be afraid to read it straight from the printout if you need to.

Be polite but persistent, and demand real answers. MoCs are very good at deflecting or dodging questions they don’t want to answer. If the MoC dodges, ask a follow-up question. If they aren’t giving you real answers, then call them out for it. Other group members around the room should amplify by either booing the MoC or applauding you.

Don’t give up the mic until you’re satisfied with the answer. If you’ve asked a hostile question, a staffer will often try to limit your ability to follow up by taking the microphone back immediately after you finish speaking. They can’t do that if you keep a firm hold on the mic. No staffer in their right mind wants to look like they’re physically intimidating a constituent, so they will back off. If they object, then say politely but loudly: “I’m not finished. The MoC is dodging my question. Why are you trying to stop me from following up?”


It’s not astroturf, i.e. organized groups posing as average people to create a false impression of grassroots enthusiasm, and Rubio isn’t claiming that it is. These are average people, he allows — average liberal people with an interest in activism, who’ve been inspired by the “Indivisible” document. Rubio’s attitude is that a member of Congress has a duty to meet with constituents but no duty to provide them with a target for a media-friendly spectacle that’s not really about either side listening, but it’s a bad look in the era of “draining the swamp” for a newly reelected senator to beg off one rough 90-minute encounter when colleagues in the House and Senate have been willing to face the fire.


Does Rubio believe, in hindsight, that Democrats should have ducked the ObamaCare town halls in 2009? A blast from Twitter past:

Here he is explaining his position followed by his old nemesis, Chris Christie, himself a veteran of many contentious town halls in New Jersey, encouraging wary Republicans to sack up. Every Republican who’s held a town hall this month, from Tom Cotton to Justin Amash to Mark Sanford and on, has come out looking better rather than worse for having faced the fire. An eloquent conservative like Rubio who’s perceived by some in his base as weak under pressure should see it as an opportunity to show his mettle.

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