One of the more dramatic flaws in Marco Rubio’s presidential candidacy is a brutal contradiction: he’s a career politician, winning six elections before his 41st birthday, with no real accomplishments to his name.
In the enormous Republican field, voters can choose between established, experienced candidates who’ve done things in public office (Kasich, Bush) or insurgent outsiders with non-governmental records (Trump, Carson), but Rubio is burdened with the worst of both worlds, winning several elections without having done much in the way of meaningful work.
It’s a point about which the Florida senator appears increasingly sensitive. In fact, in October, Rubio tried to take credit for others’ work during his tenure in the state legislature. This week, Rubio’s begun telling voters that he actually has a major federal accomplishment – he helped undermine the American health care system – and his allied super PAC is pushing the line in a commercial:
“On Obamacare, some Republicans gave up. Some talked tough but got nowhere. For all the Republican talk about dismantling the Affordable Care Act, one Republican hopeful has actually done something.”
For some GOP voters and much of the media, this seems compelling – Rubio hasn’t just spun his wheels for five years on Capitol Hill; when he’s bothered to show up for work, he invested real time and energy into interfering with families’ access to medical care.
There are, however, two important flaws in the pitch. The first, of course, is the fact that deliberately trying to undermine the American health care system is not an accomplishment upon which to build a presidential campaign.
The second, as the Washington Post explained today, is that Rubio didn’t do what he claims to have done.
Success always has many fathers, but Rubio goes way too far in claiming credit here. He raised initial concerns about the risk-corridor provision, but the winning legislative strategy was executed by other lawmakers.
The irony is, Rubio has recently tried to take credit for others’ work as a way of differentiating himself from President Obama. “I’m not like that other one-term senator who ran for president,” the Florida Republican has effectively argued, “because I’ve gotten things done in Congress.”
It’s not just a lazy lie; it’s actually the exact opposite of reality.
As we discussed a few months ago, Obama put far more effort into his congressional career than Rubio, and as a result, he had more success. As a senator, Obama developed a reputation as a work horse, being well prepared for briefings and hearings, introducing a lot of bills, and developing an expertise on serious issues like counter-proliferation.
There’s a great story from 2005 in which the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a day-long hearing on U.S. policy in Iraq, and then-Chairman Dick Lugar (R-Ill.) praised Obama for being the only other senator who was on hand for the entire thing, start to finish. As Salon’s Simon Maloy noted, “It was minor stuff, but it gave Obama a reputation as someone who was willing to do the basic work needed to get things done.”
Rubio has never developed that kind of reputation among his colleagues. On the contrary, he’s seen as a senator who misses a lot of votes, skips a lot of hearings, and fails to show up for a lot of briefings.
Eight years ago, there was a talking point that made the rounds in GOP circles when going after then-candidate Obama: he’d never run a city; he’d never run a state; and he’d never run a business. The trouble is, the exact same talking point can be applied to Rubio, and can even be made a little worse: he’s never built up a legislative record, either.
It’s not fair to say Rubio never passed a bill, but it’s awfully close. According to congress.gov, the far-right Floridian, over the course of five years, took the lead in sponsoring a measure that was signed into law. It’s called the “Girls Count Act,” and it encourages developing countries to register girls’ births. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the policy, but it was a largely symbolic measure that passed both chambers without so much as a vote.
He also helped name September as National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month.
That’s about it.
If Rubio and his allied super PAC find that embarrassing, they should probably try to change the subject – because deceptive claims and taking credit for others’ work isn’t generally a recipe for an improved presidential campaign.
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