Rubio: My only debt is my mortgage -- and to America

Marco Rubio has come under fire after muscling his way into the top five of the Republican presidential primary race, perhaps more personally than has his colleague Ted Cruz, who has matched his rise over the last few weeks into double-digit range. Both Jeb Bush and Donald Trump have taken aim at Rubio’s personal finances, with the latter echoing a debunked New York Times hit piece that accused Rubio of living above his means. In an interview this morning on ABC’s Good Morning America, Rubio laughs off the attacks and turns the question back to the theme of his campaign, which is American exceptionalism:

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Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio defended himself today against attacks over his personal finances.

“I only have one debt in the world, which is my mortgage on a home for me and my family,” the Florida senator told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America.”

He added that he’s also indebted to the United States “because of everything it’s made possible for me and my family.”

These questions have been asked and answered before, although mostly not in the context of being a presidential front-runner. The Times hit piece was the most recent, accusing Rubio of breaking his retirement account to buy a luxury speedboat, which turned out to be a modest cabin cruiser — de rigueur for south Florida’s middle class. That accusation has morphed into accusations that Rubio and his family live so far above their means that he had to crack open his retirement to pay their month-to-month bills, which Rubio rebuts in part here — although it’s an open interpretation as to what constitutes “living expenses.” Preparing for potential failures of climate systems in the house is one thing, but ongoing tuition may strike some as a cost that falls under “living expenses” for those who choose private education. Rubio frames it as an investment rather than an expense, which many parents would understand and with which they may sympathize. YMMV.

George Stephanopoulos acknowledges that the credit card questions have been asked and answered repeatedly, but asks it again. Rubio has a well-prepared answer to deal with that (as expected after a few years of scrutiny on the question), but don’t expect Trump and Bush to let it go, at least not yet. Hillary Clinton has also started attacking Rubio on immigration policy. Rubio practically leaps at the chance to remind Stephanopoulos that Democrats had two years of total control in Washington in 2009 and 2010, and did nothing on the issue. Comprehensive reform can’t pass, Rubio concluded, which is why he withdrew his support from the Gang of Eight compromise, and Barack Obama has only made it worse with his executive actions on immigration. Immigration reform has to be accomplished incrementally, starting with border security, to get anything done at all.

Rubio also managed to subtly poke at both Democrats and the media by pointing out the diversity of the Republican field:

Stephanopoulos noted that the two rivals for the GOP presidential nomination are both 44 years old, of Cuban descent, are in their first terms in the Senate and have had Tea Party support.

“I like that. Ted is a friend of mine,” Rubio said.

“I think it’s interesting that the four top candidates in that field, three of them, of the four, come from minority backgrounds, which speaks a lot to the diversity of the Republican Party and the strength of our party,” added Rubio, whose parents immigrated from Cuba.

Another top Republican presidential candidate is Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who is African-American. Carson is neck and neck in polls with Donald Trump.

All in all, it’s a pretty good showing for Rubio in his first week as a top-rank contender in the field. The attacks seem to be raising his visibility in the field, and Rubio shows he can parry them effectively. At some point, Ted Cruz may want to get himself on the Trump/Bush attack radar screen.

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