Stylistically, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) soared in this week’s debate for Republican presidential candidates. Substantively, however, it was a very different story.
Responding to questions about his messy personal finances, for example, Rubio simply denied reality. Pressed on the effects of his far-right tax plan, Rubio ran into similar problems.
But one of the more jarring moments of the debate came when the Florida senator went after Hillary Clinton, complaining about her recent appearance at his party’s Benghazi Committee hearing. From the transcript:
“She spent over a week telling the families of those victims and the American people that it was because of a video. And yet the mainstream media is going around saying it was the greatest week in Hillary Clinton’s campaign.“It was the week she got exposed as a liar. It was the week that she got exposed as a liar.”
This is generally the kind of rhetoric one might expect from Louie Gohmert, Steve King, or some other House GOP extremist, not a senator seeking the nation’s highest office.
But more important is the fact when a national candidate goes after a rival with the word “liar,” he’d better be able to back it up – and in this case, Rubio can’t. The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler fact-checked the senator’s attack and found “he does not have enough evidence” to back up his attack.
The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent emphasized a key detail: “Early intelligence on what caused the attacks was conflicting and erroneous, with some intel concluding the attacks had occurred in the context of the protests, and other intel concluding they were terrorism. Clinton’s private statements about terrorism did not reflect certainty; they tracked with information that was coming in at the time; the administration’s public suggestions about the video also tracked with contradictory information. The Republican-led probes have also concluded this — including one signed by Rubio, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.”
But Rubio casually threw around the word “liar” anyway, probably because (a) he assumes far-right activists will enjoy the red meat; and (b) the senator figures he can get away with it.
The GOP candidate should realize, though, that throwing around false attacks, and counting on voters to ignore fact-checking pieces later, is a strategy with a shelf life. Mitt Romney tried the same thing, and it didn’t work out especially well for him.
For that matter, Rubio may think he can throw around falsehoods with impunity now, but I have a hunch Hillary Clinton might have some effective pushback should these two meet next fall.