the national interest

Jeb Bush Finally Figures Out How to Attack Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio’s Achilles heel. Photo: Mary Schwalm/Corbis

Marco Rubio’s rival claimants for the role of candidate of the Republican Establishment have coalesced around a unified attack on him. That attack is mostly trivial — so trivial, in fact, that it operates at a sub-intellectual level — which makes many journalists want to dismiss it high-mindedly. But political attacks can work despite, or even because of, their mindlessness. The anti-Rubio message is expressed in this new attack ad by Right to Rise, the Jeb Bush super-pac:

The message is that Rubio is a lightweight and a fake, and every element of the ad drives it home.

  • Unlike most attack ads, which typically portray their targets frowning, this one depicts Rubio smiling like a 6-year-old at a birthday party.
  • The visuals focus on his boots, which are both suspiciously fashionable and have prominent heels — he is a dandy who needs to make himself look taller than he is.
  • The actor portraying Rubio prances around in a not especially manly fashion.
  • The ad calls him “young Marco.”
  • It references his missed Senate votes (an utterly typical practice for senators running for president).

The chorus line — “one of these days young Marco’s gonna flip-flop flip on you” — ties together all of these strands. Rubio, it wants you to believe, is a dilettante who lacks any firm beliefs. The message is an attempt to turn Rubio’s own persona against him — his youth is a lack of commitment, and his optimism a lack of gravitas. He is happy and sunny because he doesn’t grasp what a socialist hellhole Obama has made this country.

For months and months, Jeb Bush’s campaign has endured a terminal decline, while Rubio has consolidated a position as the favorite of Republican insiders and megadonors. Rubio’s fellow Establishment candidates have also flailed in their attacks on him — in part because his biggest weakness in the primary, his co-sponsorship of bipartisan immigration legislation, is an issue Bush also supports. The boots attack skirts this problem by defining the attack as a character issue rather than a policy question. It’s not that Rubio favored reform; it’s that he changed his mind. (Twice, in fact.) It may well be too late for Bush to stop Rubio from taking his position, but his donors are going to take the best shot they have.

Bush Finally Figures Out How to Attack Rubio