Am I right in reading this that way or is it unfair to Rubio? Mike Warren of the Weekly Standard says that a lot of this is standard Rubio boilerplate. Traditional values, standing up to Putin and jihadis — yep, that’s pretty Rubio. But the line about feeling “out of place in our own country” is out of character. Rubio, remember, is campaigning as Mr. Sunshine. His plan from day one has been to exude Reagan-esque optimism about America’s future, believing that voters will choose that vision over someone more like Cruz or Trump who’s constantly reminding them how terrible things have gotten. If Trump’s message is “Make Great America Again,” Rubio’s message has been “America is great and will be greater when I’m president.” This ad, especially the line about feeling out of place and the kicker about “acting” great again, feels Trump-ier in tone. (The line about “bigots and haters,” another criticism often thrown at Trump-ers, is interesting too although that’s aimed mainly at social cons who object to pro-SSM legal developments, I assume.) The Times is right when it says that it seems to be aimed at people who feel “disaffected from American politics,” which has been a textbook media description all year of Trump’s (and, to a lesser extent, Cruz’s) base. The line about stagnant wages is notable too in that context. That’s nothing unusual from a presidential candidate, especially one like Rubio who’s aiming his “pro-family” tax plan at the middle class, but Trump’s the one who’s polling famously well with blue-collar Republicans right now. Complaining about wages is exactly what you’d say if you were pitching yourself to them. Hmmm.
People on social media are also detecting a Trump-y vibe here, among them reputed Rubio-hater Joe Scarborough, who lost his sh*t when this clip went live this afternoon. Rubio’s line about feeling “out of place” means he’s gone “full-on nativist,” says Scarborough, pointing to a poll that shows feeling like a stranger in your own country is a sentiment more often expressed by Trump fans. If that’s how Rubio feels, he says, he should leave the country, which is an, er, interesting way to signal one’s anti-nativism. But I digress. The absurdity of accusing Rubio of nativism is exactly why this spot feels so strange: A man who’s trying to become the first major-party Latino nominee, who cannot and will not stop talking about his immigrant heritage whenever he mentions his bio, and whose greatest claim to political fame is a pro-amnesty Senate bill on which he risked his career, is now a “full-on nativist”? What Rubio’s actually trying to do here, however awkwardly and implausibly, is to channel Trump fans’ disaffection away from immigration and towards other grievances — a bad economy for the working class, weakness on foreign policy, a liberal tide on social issues like gay marriage and so on. Mostly that’s pure self-interest at work, as Rubio’s far less compromised on those subjects than he is on immigration, but partly it’s because he very obviously doesn’t support nativist sentiments. He’s trying to co-opt Trump and Cruz fans here on any and every other bit of ground except that one.
As it is, Noah Rothman’s right. Scarborough is oddly harder on Rubio for sounding a bit like Trump than he is on the actual Trump, who’s a guest on his show every damned week frequently for half-hour blocks at a time. Maybe it’s time to drop the “reputed” when referring to him as a Rubio-hater. Exit question: Why does this feel so much like a commercial for a personal injury lawyer? Is it because Rubio himself so often feels a little too smooth in his pitches or is it just the setting, which looks like a lawyer giving his closing argument?