Look, I’m under no illusions that last week’s now-infamous exchange with Chris Christie cost Marco Rubio dearly, but a bad three minutes does not a robot make. In my 20-plus years of constitutional litigation and conservative writing, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with any number of politicians, and Rubio has always stood out to me as one of three contemporary senators who are among the most genuine and thoughtful of all the politicians I’ve met. The other two are Nebraska’s Ben Sasse and Kentucky’s Rand Paul. (I haven’t spoken to Ted Cruz since law school, so I can’t make any personal assessment that isn’t dated by 22 years.)
In my experience in off-the-record conversations, Rubio is unguarded and deeply knowledgeable. If you talk to him for more than five minutes about the Middle East and the threat from radical Islam, you’ll know that he’s thought deeply about our challenge and is incredibly well-informed. And I say that from a position of inherent cynicism and skepticism. I’ve seen countless politicians – even in the most private of settings – never succeed in turning off the talking points. For some, it’s as if a life of constant campaigning — of never being sure if a comment will come back and bite them — has drained them of a piece of their humanity. Their robotic speech has transformed from a perceived political necessity to an essential part of their nature.
Yes, Rubio repeats himself at debates and on the stump, but so does every single politician. Donald Trump talks about “winning” so much that even Charlie Sheen is embarrassed, and how many times did we have to listen to Christie go through his tiresome act of pointing out how he’s a man of action before he mercifully exited the race? While talking points are irritating to the 0.001 percent of Americans who comment on politics, message discipline is indispensable to reaching the vast mass of Americans who don’t follow politics until the days before an election. “Hope and change” anyone? “Yes we can”?
Rubio’s exchange with Christie was damaging, but it does not reflect his inherent nature. And if he’s a robot for repeating himself, I look forward to legions of robot-costumed activists following every other candidate who repeats the same points on the stump and in debates. For more accurate reflection of the Rubio that I’ve talked to, I’d urge you to read Stephen F. Hayes’s excellent, extended report from inside the Rubio campaign. The picture it paints is far more nuanced — and far more accurate — than what we saw on the debate stage last Saturday night.