Marco Rubio has generally avoided going after his Republican presidential rivals, largely because he hasn’t felt the need to do so. But as the new year approaches and the race reaches a more intense stage, the Florida senator realizes that he’s not quite where he needs to be – and waiting for the candidates ahead of him to falter is probably a recipe for failure.
With this in mind, in Tuesday night’s debate, Rubio took aim at Ted Cruz for having voted against an annual military bill – the National Defense Authorization Act (or NDAA) – more than once.
“Three times he voted against the Defense Authorization Act, which is a bill that funds the troops,” Rubio said of his Texas competitor. “It also, by the way, funds the Iron Dome and other important programs.”
Note the Iron Dome reference, a subtle way for Rubio to suggest Cruz doesn’t support U.S. troops and doesn’t support Israel. Did I mention that Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who uses support for Israel as a litmus test for candidates, was in the front row at the time?
Cruz explained his vote and pushed back against what he saw as a cheap line of attack, but the Texas senator overlooked an even more important detail, which BuzzFeed flagged:
Marco Rubio attacked Ted Cruz during Tuesday’s CNN debate for voting against the annual bill that authorizes military spending for the following fiscal year, but Rubio missed this year’s vote to campaign in New Hampshire. […]One of Cruz’s “nay” votes came on Oct. 7, in a vote Rubio missed. The bill passed 70-27, despite Rubio’s absence.
Rubio also missed the “procedural vote that led to the bill’s passing.”
In other words, Rubio is outraged that Cruz didn’t vote for the NDAA – which Rubio considered so important that he skipped the vote altogether. It’s a rookie mistake, and it’s hardly the first for the young Floridian.
At its root, the line of attack is itself misguided. Plenty of members, in both parties, have voted against NDAA bills many times, for many reasons. It doesn’t mean they’re unpatriotic or somehow hostile to the U.S. military. Rubio may struggle at times with substantive nuance, but this really isn’t especially complicated.
For that matter, Yahoo News published a piece yesterday noting that Rubio himself has also voted more than once against spending packages that fund the military.
But the more glaring mistake is Rubio characterizing the NDAA vote as critically important, without realizing that he didn’t even bother to show up for work when the bill reached the Senate floor. For all the media hype about Rubio’s debate performances, every time we look a little closer at the details, some important flaws become more obvious.