Florida Senator Marco Rubio has been seen by the media as the dark horse in the race so far as he is seen as conservative enough to appeal to supporters on the Right of the party, as well as moderate enough to appeal to more establishment voters. It is unclear at this point whether or not Rubio could be the nominee as, even though he is probably performing the best among the politicians running for the nomination, polling at this point in the race shows that most GOP primary voters don’t want a politician. His debate performance was better than many of the other candidates as he showed himself to be quite polished, but this is also potentially his biggest weakness with Republican voters that do not trust polished politicians.
Rubio’s first comments were in relation to government programmes and let slip this point that, if said by a Democrat would have caused an unbelievable Republican backlash: “we call that the American Dream but in fact it’s a universal dream of a better life that people have all over the world”. This is a true statement, but if say Hillary Clinton said this sentence the GOP would have angrily argued that she was denying the existence of American Exceptionalism and doesn’t believe is a unique nation.
On his economic approach he said that the way to create jobs was through tax and regulatory reform; in addition to this he wanted to see the debt brought down, repeal and replace Obamacare, make higher education more affordable and “fully utilise our energy resources”. There’s lots to unpick here. ‘Tax and regulatory reform’ is a euphemism for cutting taxes and deregulating industry which I would argue is a bad thing as public services would get worse, brining the debt down is incompatible with massive tax cuts, and making college education more affordable without intervening in the marketplace is near impossible. Furthermore Rubio didn’t specify what he would replace Obamacare with and “fully utilise our energy resources” I suspect means using coal, drilling for oil, and fracking which would do nothing to stop climate change, although he doesn’t believe in man-made climate change so that’s not an issue for him. He went on to portray himself as the candidate of new optimism by saying that “we can make this century a new American century”, which is true but, based on the policies he laid out, would be a long way off.
Later on in the debate he went on to argue that the banks that caused the 2007-8 Great Recession were only their current size because the government was adding regulations. His argument was based on the idea that when there are lots of regulations big banks hire armies of lawyers and accountants whereas small banks cannot. Whilst this seems logically sound, it is worth pointing out that regulations can be changed to exempt small banks from more burdensome regulations and that deregulation of the financial industry was a contributing factor to the 2007 Financial Crisis.
Rubio, with his argument based on this ill-thought-out premise, then argued for the repeal of Dodd-Frank, which is the small bit of banking regulation that came out of the banking collapse, quote “as soon as possible”. Presumably Rubio also subscribes to the idea that punching yourself in the face until you lose your vision is not a health risk, because the only reason the Dodd-Frank should be repealed is if it was going to be replaced by even stricter regulation, ideally Glass-Steagall.
The most interesting part of the debate came in a back and forth with Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. This dispute came about when Rubio announced that he wanted to expand child tax credits because he believes that “America should have a pro-family tax code”; Paul’s point of contention was asking “is it fiscally conservative to have another welfare programme?”. Paul went on to point out that “Marco has a plan for $1 trillion of military spending” and characterised this as being liberal on military and welfare spending and not being fiscally responsible. This is a very clever way of pitching a more libertarian argument to GOP primary voters that are not ideologically consistent.
When Rubio came back at Paul he argued that expanding child tax credits is like investing in a business and described Paul as a foreign policy isolationist, which it is worth noting received a very mixed response from the audience. The Florida Senator concluded his remarks on the subject by arguing that “we can’t have an economy if we aren’t safe” and that “the world is a safer place when America is the strongest military power in the world”. Both of these quotes illustrate how Rubio is playing on the Republican voters’ fear of terrorism as what he is implying is that currently the United States isn’t the strongest military power in the world and that in order to secure the American economy more military spending is required. Paul did challenge these points by saying that the US is “no safer from bankruptcy court” and also points out that the US spends more on the military than the next ten countries combined; additional military spending according to the Kentucky Senator, and people that aren’t paranoid, is not the answer.
Rubio’s comments regarding foreign policy were mired in stupidity. He argued that Vladimir Putin is “a gangster”, which I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with, that Israel is being treated “worse than Iran”, and that ISIS “hate us for our values, we let girls go to school and we let women drive”. Israel receives over $3 billion a year from the United States in foreign aid payments and military assistance whereas Iran had international sanctions inflicted upon them. The implied criticism of the Iran nuclear deal is stupid, but even if he accepts that the Iran nuclear deal is a positive step forward, which he should, it pails in comparison to the financial fellatio that is delivered to Benjamin Netanyahu by the American government.
Finally I found the comments about ISIS rather funny, because although he is correct that women aren’t allowed to go to school or drive in ISIS controlled territory, there is one country in the world which is famous for not letting women drive and it’s America’s biggest ally in the Islamic world: Saudi Arabia. I’m fine with criticising Saudi Arabia for killing homosexuals, crucifying apostates and flogging women for driving a car, but historically the American politicians have been hesitant to do so because of their sweet, sweet oil. Yes ISIS are barbarous monsters, but living in Saudi Arabia is not too dissimilar to living under ISIS.
Before writing the review of Rubio’s performance I thought that I would take me a long time because he received a lot of air time and the mainstream media have thought his performance was one of the strongest, however this turned out not to be the case. As I looked through my notes I realised that despite all of Rubio’s screen time, most of his responses were totally devoid of meaning and substance. So my conclusion is that even though I still don’t know the specifics of his tax plan or what he would do in relation to foreign policy other than increase military expenditure, he probably won the debate because the Republican base don’t really care. That being said, I am unsure as to whether this will boost his poll numbers as the outsiders of the campaign have previously done much worse than they did in this debate, yet their numbers continued to rise. Rubio may have won the debate, and he might be the most electable candidate, but I have no idea whether this strong performance will benefit his campaign.