Michael Brendan Dougherty pokes some holes in the perpetual “Rubio moment”:
As of January 10, the supposedly-moribund Bush campaign has gained as much support in New Hampshire as Rubio even though the nation has been enduring two months of Rubio moments.
The “moments” go back much earlier than that. One thing after another has been touted as a positive development for Rubio’s political fortunes, and those fortunes remain the same or sometimes get even worse. He has been having a “moment” for the last several years, and yet he never seems to gain more support. Romney’s 2012 election loss was turned into the first of many “moments” for Rubio, since he was strangely credited with having the ability to improve the GOP’s standing with Hispanic voters. That led him into his immigration debacle, from which he has never fully recovered. Leading opposition to the opening to Cuba was supposed to be a big boost for Rubio, and then nothing changed. As I’ve said before, “Rubio is repeatedly held up as someone whose time has come and then he fails to live up to the hype.” How many “moments” must a candidate waste before we can call him a failure?
Back in September, Walker’s departure from the race was hailed as one in an unending series of openings for Rubio. That seemed odd to me at the time:
Walker discovered that trying to satisfy both sides of the party on this issue ended up alienating both, and there is no reason to assume that Rubio will be able to pull off that balancing act much better than Walker did. It is just a matter of time until Rubio’s immigration record is used against him in the campaign. It should be even more harmful to his candidacy when that happens, because the immigration bill he supported and then abandoned was intended to be one of his signature accomplishments and except for his work on that bill he doesn’t have much to show for his time in the Senate.
In the months since then, Rubio’s vulnerability on immigration has been emphasized and used against him to great effect by several of his opponents, and it does seem to be one of the main reasons why he can’t seem to increase his support very much.
The problem here is the relentless effort by many in the media (both mainstream and conservative) to build up Rubio into a much more competitive and even dominating candidate than he is, and part of that effort is giving Rubio a pass on things that would not be ignored with other candidates. Pundits credit him with a front-runner status he doesn’t have and won’t earn. News reports routinely exaggerate his supposed foreign policy expertise. Despite this, almost no one puts his arguments under the sort of scrutiny one would expect to be applied to someone in the position Rubio supposedly holds. He can make foreign policy statements that are just as jarringly dumb and ill-informed as any made by Walker or Trump, but that is almost never held against him. He can blithely talk about putting U.S. special forces in Yemen to help the Saudis in their atrocious war and complain that the U.S. isn’t doing enough to help them pummel that country, and almost no one notices.
Bearing all that in mind, it is striking that Rubio hasn’t made more headway after years of mostly very friendly and positive coverage. I assume the main reason for that is that most Republicans aren’t buying the rebooted neoconservative and pro-immigration agenda that he’s selling. Perhaps another is that the fact that Rubio is obviously the favorite candidate of many media outlets hurts him with the voters he most needs to win over. The more that party elites and pundits embrace Rubio as their last hope, the more that Republican primary voters (who increasingly distrust and loathe their leaders) begin to doubt and recoil from him.