Saturday night seven Republican presidential candidates faced off in the last debate before Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary. On a night that Marco Rubio needed to perform at his best, the junior Senator from Florida was at his worst.
Coming off his strong third place finish in Iowa where young and suburban voters propelled him to center stage, Rubio had the momentum from the media and the establishment strongly in his favor. Both camps, for whatever reason, are eager to announce a quick knockout blow this primary cycle, whether it be from Trump quickly running up the score or one candidate coalescing establishment support. Marco’s moment to unite the Republican Party and do the latter evaporated with this exchange…
Governor Christie confirmed for audiences what many have speculated; that Rubio is a preprogrammed and overly scripted candidate that may malfunction if caught off-guard in a heated exchange. His repeat of the same canned answer not twice but four times drew boos from the audience and was the defining moment of the night.
Marco Rubio is an establishment favorite for neoconservatives, eager for one of their own to be back in the White House. The candidate supports bombing three sides of a civil war in Syria, dramatically escalating the American footprint in the Middle East, escalating tensions with Russia on multiple fronts, taking on China in the South China Sea, and ramping up America’s defense expenditures, with no mention of how to pay for it. For Marco Rubio, every foreign policy challenge the United States faces can be solved through military force. He makes no apologies for this world view, but believes it to be a defining aspect of American exceptionalism (those at the founding of the Republic would disagree, John Quincy Adams famously proclaiming in 1821 that “America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy”). He is the most hawkish of the Republican field, which may hurt him with average voters. The only candidate more in favor of intervening abroad militarily is Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Rubio may be charming, give a good speech, and have a personal story that will attract moderates, young people, and Hispanics in the general election, but his inability to parry an expected shot, unimaginative foreign policy positions, and executive inexperience indicate this primary is not over, and the voters from either party aren’t ready to crown a candidate just yet. In the short-term, Marco Rubio is expected to finish second in New Hampshire after a dominant Donald Trump. He may still finish in strong standing Tuesday night, but unless the young candidate can overcome the challenges launched at him for his lack of experience and scripted personality, his long-term viability will decline.