It was Mitt Romney who got the ball rolling three years ago. As we recently discussed, after the Republican presidential hopeful received an unfriendly reception from an NAACP audience, Romney told a group of donors, “I hope people understand this, your friends who like Obamacare, you remind them of this: if they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy – more free stuff.”
Given the election results, it appears Romney’s message didn’t resonate. But after his defeat, the GOP candidate whined as he departed the stage: President Obama only won re-election, Romney told donors in a post-election briefing, because he bribed minority voters with “big gifts,” such as health care and education.
At the time, even Romney allies cringed. Republican officials quickly realized that such talk was tone-deaf and counter-productive, and the party would be wise to understand how such rhetoric is perceived by middle-class families.
Now, however, the GOP has found itself right back where it was. Three weeks ago, it was former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) complaining about Democrats and “free stuff,” and this morning, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), usually a polished speaker when delivering canned talking points, repeated the identical phrase. TPM reported:
“If you watched that debate last night it looked like something from the early ’80s,” Rubio said on “Fox and Friends.” “It was basically a liberal verses liberal debate about who was going to give away the most free stuff: Free college education, free college education for people illegally in this country, free health care, free everything.”“Their answer to every problem in America is a government program and a tax increase. That’s all they prescribe time and time again,” he continued.
Perhaps a memo was circulated in GOP circles: Republicans should hold a little contest to see who can be the most Romney-esque.
In fact, pay particular to what Rubio was willing to dismiss out of hand as outrageous and frivolous giveaways: access to affordable college and access to affordable medical care.
Sure, if Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders had an extended conversation about which one of them was better prepared to offer taxpayer-financed limousine rides to the unicorn farm, where we’d all receive free ice cream served in gold bowls, then far-right candidates like Rubio would be on firm ground complaining about Democratic excesses.
But what actually bothered the Florida senator was Democratic talk about making it easier for families to send their kids to college and see a doctor. This is what Rubio scoffs at as liberal extravagances.
I’d love to hear more from Rubio about what else he considers unnecessary “free stuff.” Are public roads and highways “free stuff”? How about public schools? Should American families look at public fire and police protection as “free stuff” or should we wait for tax credits from a Rubio administration towards private security forces?
Where is the line, in Rubio’s mind, between liberal “free stuff” and pillars of modern American life?