Towards the end of last night’s debate for the Republican presidential candidates, Maria Bartiromo noted Hillary Clinton’s background before asking Marco Rubio, “Why should the American people trust you to lead this country, even though she has been so much closer to the office?”
The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel noted moments later, “You couldn’t have written that Rubio question to be any nicer if you were introducing him at a fundraiser.” The New York Times helped capture the larger context:
Mr. Rubio was not only able to avoid being drawn into the contentious immigration debate, but also repeatedly received questions that allowed him to answer with versions of his stump speech. Even he seemed unable to believe his good fortune when he was asked to make his case against Mrs. Clinton. He chuckled for a moment before unspooling a well-rehearsed argument: why he can prosecute a “generational” case against her.
That reference to Rubio chuckling was quite serious. A Washington Post piece noted this morning, “Marco Rubio got lobbed softballs so soft that he could not help but LAUGH at one of them. Literally!” [emphasis in the original]
Perhaps there’s something to be said for grading candidates on a curve. It’s a bit like college football, when the strength of the schedule is taken into consideration.
Sure, the senator effortlessly recites canned, carefully scripted mini-speeches, without any real regard for their connection to the question, which invariably earns overly enthusiastic praise. But it probably helps when the questions – which were so tilted in Rubio’s favor that he couldn’t help but laugh – practically invite him to recite portions of the stump speech he delivers literally every day.
What’s more, Salon’s Simon Maloy, who compared the Q&A for Rubio to tee-ball, highlighted “the questions Rubio wasn’t asked.”
Donald Trump was interrogated about his position on immigration, but Rubio – whose immigration apostasies have caused him trouble with conservatives – was not. Ted Cruz was pressed repeatedly on how he’d pay for his package of tax cuts, but Rubio – whose tax plan costs far more than Cruz’s – was not.
There’s going to come a point in the coming months when Ted Cruz characterizes Marco Rubio as a “media darling,” celebrated by Republican insiders and pundits alike.
And he’s probably going to have a point.