Consider this progress. Typically it’s only women candidates who are scrutinized for their fashion choices.
I skipped Bootgate yesterday because it was too stupid even for me, but on a slow news day, if Rubio’s going to talk about it, I guess we’ll talk about it.
“Let me get this right. ISIS is cutting people’s heads off, setting people on fire in cages, Saudi Arabia and Iran on the verge of a war, the Chinese are landing airplanes on islands that they built and say belong to them and what are international waters and in some ways territorial waters, our economy is flat-lined, the stock market is falling apart, but boy are we getting a lot of coverage about a pair of boots,” he said Thursday, grinning. “This is craziness. Have people lost their minds?”
Rubio was responding to a member of the audience — who said he is still undecided — during his rally in New Hampshire who said he was glad the Florida senator made “a better shoe choice today.” (Rubio was not wearing the infamous boots.)
“I’ve gotten a chuckle out of it. Who knows, they may make a comeback here soon. Stay tuned,” Rubio warned.
Here’s what the fuss is all about. It’s true that the media, specifically a reporter from (where else?) the New York Times, got the ball rolling, but I think this tweet from a non-journalist is what got under Rubio’s skin:
A Vote for Marco Rubio Is a Vote for Men’s High-Heeled Booties https://t.co/nsjEKqLPr4 via TheCut
— Rick Tyler (@rickwtyler) January 5, 2016
Rick Tyler is Ted Cruz’s national spokesman. Team Cruz wasn’t the only campaign to jab Rubio over the boots — Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, and Carly Fiorina teased him too — but the line about “high-heeled booties” was the most cutting. Lefty Jonathan Chait has something of a point here:
[Rubio] avoids gratuitous demonstrations of anger, speaking optimistically and sometimes even gently. If it works, Rubio’s strategy will make him more popular in a general election, encouraging Republican insiders to rally around him, thereby increasing his chances of winning the nomination…
The weakness in Rubio’s strategy is that it leaves him out of step with the mood among the base. That is what his rivals are attempting to exploit. Specifically, they are trying to make Rubio’s boots imply something deeper about his character: that he is a lightweight, unmanly, lacking the angry urgency needed at the moment. The boots are a synecdoche. Sunny and optimistic can be turned into callow, naïve, and even effeminate.
Ted Cruz wears cowboy boots; Rubio wears high-heeled booties, like girls do. Here’s Rand Paul amplifying the idea:
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) January 6, 2016
Populist conservatives are from Mars, moderate establishmentarians are from Venus. Kevin Williamson has written several fun, characteristically acidic diagnoses of Trumpmania that zero in on how important Trump’s alpha-male virility seems to be to some of his fervent supporters, but the idea on the right that populism is manly and conservative while elitism is effeminate and left-ish goes way beyond Trump. I think it’s mostly a function of geographical stereotypes: Grassroots conservatives come from rural “real America,” where people work hard for their money, while moderate Republicans come from soft blue states and push paper in banks, law firms, and so on. Populists like guns and fight for what they believe; moderates fear guns because they fear confrontation and prefer to compromise. Populists don’t worry about silly superficial things like fashion; moderates care about nothing more than how they’re perceived. Rubio is seen as the establishment’s best hope and so anything he does to play into the “moderate” stereotype is going to be broadcast by his populist critics as proof that he’s every bit the candy-ass RINO that they say. The boots, supposedly soft and girly and evidence of how much he cares about being fashionable, are part of the picture. (Rubio may, in fact, be talking tougher on the trail lately precisely because he’s worried about being seen as too “soft.”) God help this poor bastard if he gets caught showing up to a Beltway cocktail party sometime in the next five months. We’ll never hear the end of it. Free advice for Rubio: If you do go to one, at least make sure you drink beer, not wine. And drink it straight from the bottle. Beer glasses are for sissies.
Here’s the media, including veteran Rubio-hater Joe Scarborough, enjoying some euphemistic “sissy” fun at Rubio’s expense. Kind of weird that Trump, King Alpha, hasn’t joined in. Maybe Rubio’s far enough back in the polls that he doesn’t care.