But the book ultimately disappoints in many ways, mostly because it chooses to play it so safe. Nostrums about faith and family, platitudes about big government, and carefully edited biographical presentations are standard fare for a political memoir. With a politician like Rubio, however, who rose to fame with the audacious decision to launch a primary challenge against a governor with a nearly 70 percent approval rating, a reader goes in expecting more.
The degree to which the book lacks any surprising revelations or unconventional political stances is jarring. Even on the issue of immigration, Rubio seems more interested in pleasing both sides than anything else. He calls immigration “a difficult issue” and spends a chapter giving nods to both sides’ concerns, while attempting to straddle the fence. Much of Rubio’s appeal is rooted in the belief that he can help immunize the Republican party against its supposed weakness on the issue, but the evidence from this book is equivocal at best.
The other book, The Rise of Marco Rubio, by Manuel Roig-Franzia, is shorter but more substantive. Like Rubio, Roig-Franzia begins his tale some generations back, and traces the story of Rubio’s family and his rise to power. The theme of the book is simple: Throughout his career, “Rubio’s timing has been good, his execution has been even better.”
Roig-Franzia made headlines earlier this year when the Washington Post broke the revelation that Rubio’s family had emigrated not after Fidel Castro came to power, as the senator had at times intimated, but rather before the Cuban Revolution. Unsurprisingly, Roig-Franzia spends a good portion of the book backing up this claim, in sometimes excruciating detail. By the end, the reader is left with little doubt that Rubio’s family is made up of pre-Castro immigrants. Beyond this, the book covers much of the same ground as Rubio’s, though from a more detached and less politically sensitive perspective.
It is at the same time too long and too short. At times, the reader will likely find himself flipping quickly through pages of seemingly endless minutiae and random facts. A paragraph is expended describing a young Marco Rubio’s trip to the Kennedy Space Center, a thread that is never woven back into the narrative. Four pages are spent describing Rubio’s high-school football team, and we learn the sad history of the now-defunct Tarkio College (which Rubio briefly attended).
Even the “big scoop” on Rubio’s immigration story is in many ways bludgeoned to death. Family history can be a tricky thing — my own family believed we were related to Kaiser Wilhelm II, until my research made clear we were descended from hardscrabble Prussian farmers — and Rubio doesn’t seem to have maliciously overstated his case.
All of that excessive detail might be excused, except that so many other interesting aspects of Rubio’s career are dispatched in a few sentences. Beyond the botched family history, Rubio’s shortcomings are only hinted at. Rubio’s relationships with political associates who have faced corruption charges, including now-congressman David Rivera, are also glossed over. Similarly, the political committees that were alleged to have done little work — while employing Rubio family members — are given short shrift.