Rubioâs flustered debate performance revealed something his close friends and allies have long known about him. âMarco, calm down.â This story is partially adapted from my book, The Wilderness.
posted on Feb. 9, 2016, at 4:00 a.m.
… But more than age, record, or wardrobe, it is Rubioâs natural nervousness that makes him seem to so many who know him like he is swimming in his dadâs sport coat. ..
This hemming and hawing continued into his Senate career, especially after 2012 when high-powered political allies in Miami began lobbying him to join the Senateâs bipartisan push to overhaul immigration.
Sympathetic to the cause but wary of the politics, Rubio went back and forth for weeks, talking through an endless loop of pros and cons, and agonizing over every potential pitfall. To his supporters at the Biltmore â a Miami political hub where he had long ago earned the diminutive nickname Marquito â there was little patience for his trademark tentativeness.
Ten valor, Marquito! came the refrain from the Biltmore chorus. Have courage!
âWhatâs the point of having political capital if youâre never going to use it?â Ana Navarro, a GOP commentator (and current Bush supporter), demanded during one early conversation with Rubio.
That Rubio made the wrong decision on a very important matter is something I already knew. That he recognized that it was an important matter and was much more worried than the people around him that it was the wrong decision raises my evaluation of him a little.
I realize that you are supposed to assume that the Miami Conquistador-American Republicans who lunch at the Biltmore with Rubio are better than normal Republicans because they are Diverse! But there’s something a little weird about the GOP Establishment’s urge to hand over the GOP to people with Cuban ties (Rubio, Cruz, or Bush via business) just because Cubans are the only Diverse people Republicans have got. I mean, if Cubans were such great politicians, wouldn’t they still have their own country?
âHe just lets these little things get to him, and he worries too much,â a Miami Republican complained after spending close to an hour sitting next to Rubio on a flight as he fretted over a mildly critical process story about him in the National Journal. âIâm just like, âMarco, calm down.ââ
Even Jeb Bush Jr. expressed frustration with Rubio in an interview with BuzzFeed News late in 2012. âHeâs got to actually execute and get something done, rather than just talking,â he grumbled.
When Rubio did eventually commit to joining the Gang of Eight he went all in, eagerly blitzing conservative media to sell the effort, convinced that his star power would ultimately win over the Right.
Instead, his pitch was met with an organized right-wing backlash and an onslaught of weaponized memes (like the âMarcophoneâ) designed to advance a campaign of misinformation.
Feeling cornered, Rubio ordered his office in a fit of pique to push back hard against the right-wingers spreading false information. His aides churned out statements debunking âmythsâ about the immigration bill and calling out conservative reporters by name for perpetuating them. Rubio himself became testy during interviews and obsessed with correcting the record at the expense of all else. This strategy only inflamed the opposition, and before long his national favorability rating had plummeted among Republicans, while tea partyers were practically hoisting pitchforks in protest of his ideological betrayal. Rubio was distraught.
âTo hear the worry, anxiety, and growing anger in the voices of so many people who helped me get elected to the Senate, who I agree with on virtually every other issue, has been a real trial for me,â he admitted in a speech the day before the bill passed the Senate.
In private, Rubio looked like he was mourning the death of his career (or at least his White House dreams) as he plodded through the fallout, aides recalled. And once it became clear there was no chance of the legislation becoming law, the senator pulled a one-eighty and publicly withdrew his support for the bill.
An alternative interpretation is that Rubio was right to be extremely nervous that signing on with Chuck Schumer on immigration could backfire disastrously on his career. But Rubio is surrounded by Miami Republicans to whom turning America into Latin America Norte is not a worry but a goal, so their cluelessness eventually wore down his political instincts.
An alternative history would be Rubio taking the opposite route and becoming the face of opposition to Schumer’s amnesty bill. This would have set up a war with Jeb over immigration. A war with Jeb over immigration is, we now know, a war any Republican candidate should have wanted.
Rubio rather than Trump would have gotten credit for ending Jeb’s political career.
Alternatively, he could have kept a low profile on amnesty.
Rubio may still win the GOP nomination, but either alternative history pathway would likely have been much easier. So Rubio was right to be nervous.