You need to read the full interview to appreciate how much of a non sequitur this question was. He’s going back and forth with the author, Michael Hainey, about the standard post-election fare — Obama, 2016, his biography — and then, out of nowhere, “How old do you think the Earth is?” It’s not organically part of the conversation but suddenly there it is, and Hainey doesn’t follow up on it. It has a distinct check-the-box feel to it, as if either he himself or his editors wanted to make sure that the question was asked but weren’t particularly interested in the answer. Which, actually, is exactly the point of a question like this. They want to put Rubio on the spot by seeing if he’ll risk alienating religious conservatives before the 2016 primaries by rejecting Young Earth creationism. If he does, then he may have a problem in famously evangelical Iowa. If he doesn’t, then the media can start hand-wringing over the next big Republican star supposedly pandering to creationists. The point is to discomfort him politically, not to explore the subject. As Bryan Preston says, it’s a small early effort in the project to destroy Rubio before 2016.
GQ: How old do you think the Earth is?
Marco Rubio: I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.
Someone on Twitter today pointed back to this poll from over the summer, which suggests that the partisan split on this subject might not be as partisan as the media thinks:
That’s a different question than Rubio was asked but the politics are the same, to gauge which side rejects scientific consensus on religious grounds. Fun fact: Even among Democrats, you’ve got a plurality who reject evolution and nearly three-fourths who see some sort of divine guiding hand in the rise of man. This is why, when you hear conservatives grumble that Obama rarely gets questions like Rubio got, it’s no idle complaint. Coming out strong for Darwin is potentially perilous politically for him too.
Then again, is it? How many Christian Democrats are switching their vote if they find out that The One believes in evolution? How many Iowa Republicans, however religious, would vote against a candidate as strong as Rubio in 2016 simply because he thought that the Earth is five billion years old? I read endless stories online last year about how Romney’s faith would cost him dearly on election day when a critical mass of evangelicals inevitably stayed home in protest of a Mormon candidate. In fact, Romney received as much evangelical support as Bush did in 2004 as a share of the electorate against Obama. Arguably the primaries are different, with Rubio having to worry about Huckabee and/or Santorum potentially outflanking him with evangelicals in a dispute over an issue as tangential as the true age of the Earth. But (a) Huck and Santorum will have to worry about non-religious voters too and frame their answers accordingly and (b) it’s hard for me to believe after the bitterness of this year’s loss that Republican primary voters would let their ballot turn on an issue that has virtually no policy implications and which might lead to a candidate they otherwise prefer losing a key primary state. If you’re a religious conservative who thinks Rubio’s not only the best man for the job but also the GOP’s best bet to win the general, are you really voting for Huckabee or Santorum to make a statement over how old the Earth is? After eight years of Democrats owning the White House and with Hillary potentially waiting in the wings?