U.S. Republican presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) listens to a question at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York May 13, 2015. 
Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

A new way to lead from behind

Asked about the Confederate flag flying at the South Carolina Statehouse, Jeb Bush wants local policymakers to do the “right” thing, but he hasn’t said what that is exactly. Ted Cruz, without a hint of irony, suggested the flag’s critics are trying to “divide people.” Scott Walker would prefer not to talk about it at all.
 
But to witness real evasiveness, turn your attention to Marco Rubio. Asked by Politico’s Marc Caputo if South Carolina should move the flag, the Florida Republican delivered a lengthy, 211-word answer – spanning 12 sentences – that somehow managed to say very little.
“What’s important to remember, because this is coming in the aftermath of a horrible tragedy, is you have one individual with hate in his heart, who carried out an act motivated by racial hatred, And it’s an atrocity. It’s a horrifying instance. What I do think is important to remember is that the people of South Carolina have dealt with this issue before. They have found a bipartisan consensus over a decade ago on moving that flag to a new location. And I have confident in their ability to deal with that issue again.
 
“I think it’s important to let the people of South Carolina move forward on it. They’ve shown an incredible ability to respond to these issues in the past – as they’ve responded to recent events, not just this tragic murder that occurred by also the murder of a civilian by a police officer just a few months ago, And these communities are able to come together and deal with it. I’ve been impressed with the leadership of the state and the capacity of people to come together to take collective action. So this is an issue they should debate and work through and not have a bunch of outsiders going and them what to do about it.”
So, Caputo tried again, asking whether or not he agrees with Mitt Romney’s position. Rubio offered an 82-word response spanning seven sentences. And once again, the senator wouldn’t answer the question directly.
 
Which led Caputo to try once more. Noting that Rubio said South Carolina policymakers will do the “right thing,” the reporter asked, “Do you think the right decision is to take the flag down or moved to a new location?” But the senator wouldn’t budge. He responded with an 89-word, five-sentence answer that again avoided taking a firm position.
 
When James Brown recorded, “Talkin loud and saying nothing,” he didn’t have Marco Rubio in mind, but he might as well have. Had the senator simply grunted and shrugged his shoulders, this would have conveyed just as much information as his actual response.
 
Part of the problem, of course, is the reluctance of Republican presidential candidates to offend far-right voters in an early primary state. But as the Huffington Post reported over the weekend, Rubio in particular has a history on this issue that may make this an awkward subject.
 
Looking ahead, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) has called a press conference for this afternoon at which she’s expected to talk about the flag’s future. There have been some unconfirmed reports that state officials are prepared to remove the flag from the capitol grounds, but we’ll know for sure in about three hours.
 
But if these early reports are accurate, the fun part will be watching GOP presidential candidates, each of whom has spent days dodging simple questions, quickly endorse the plan put forward by South Carolina policymakers. If/when Haley and state House leaders take the leap, it’s a safe bet Republican White House hopefuls will soon follow.
 
It’s putting a nice, new spin on “leading from behind.”
 

Marco Rubio and South Carolina

A new way to lead from behind