Has Marco Rubio Finally Survived His Vetting?

Marco Rubio
There are signs at the end of the invisible primary that Marco Rubio is stepping away from rumors about his personal and financial background. Photo: Mary Schwalm/Corbis

Aficianados of political dirt figured any extended presidential competition involving Senator Marco Rubio might produce some serious scandal-bait. His personal finances were by his own admission shaky well into his Florida political career, and perhaps — viz the recent liquidation of a retirement account to pay off debts — might still be a problem. He had both family members and friends who got on the wrong side of the law. He was implicated in at least one financial scandal — the improper use of state GOP credit cards — that took down a state GOP chairman. His and his wife’s dependence on a rich sugar-daddy raised eyebrows. And for dessert, there were persistent rumors of an extramarital affair. In December, I speculated that Rubio’s campaign might well expire in a wave of attacks on his background — ironically, since so much of his campaign message was based on his inspiring personal son-of-a-maid-and-a-bartender story. 

But here we are, with the invisible primary for 2016 nearly over, and nobody’s laid a glove on Rubio for personal improprieties. Perhaps the best indicator that he may have survived a thorough vetting by both opponents and media may have come today in the unlikely form of a Washington Post story on a previously unknown misdemeanor arrest of Rubio at the age of 19 for drinking beer after hours in a public park. It sure reads like the product of an investigative report that turned out to represent a dry hole, which led the authors and editors to frame the arrest as a turning point for the better in young Marco’s previously football-focused life. It would be surprising if the story loses Rubio a single vote.

And then you have the big dog that hasn’t barked: Rubio’s opponents have not, despite constant rumors they would do so, gone after Rubio for any kind of personal behavior, financial or sexual. Bush super-pac honcho Michael Murphy publicly discussed plans by his Right to Rise organization to run ads attacking Jeb’s fellow Floridian for his financial irregularities. Instead he’s run ads on Rubio’s poor Senate attendance record and immigration flip-flop, a reminder of well-known facts of his public record rather than new information about the man behind the myth. Ted Cruz’s campaign has focused on exactly the same issues. And supposed tough-guy Chris Christie has mainly dissed Marco as a parvenu and — gasp! — a member of Congress. 

It’s possible that Rubio’s underperformance in the polls — despite many weeks of hype labeling him the best Establishment bet for blocking Trump and Cruz and the one Republican Democrats allegedly fear — has led rivals to hold their fire. But if Rubio makes it to the Great Establishment Showdown in New Hampshire just 18 days from now without his character being impugned, it’s a small victory that makes big victories down the road possible, if hardly certain. 

Has Marco Rubio Finally Survived His Vetting?