Last night’s GOP debate in New Hampshire witnessed the worst meltdown by a candidate since Gerald Ford unaccountably declared Poland free from Soviet dominance in 1976. Actually, Sen. Marco Rubio’s collapse was worse: Ford looked unpresidential, which made the only other person on the stage, Jimmy Carter, look presidential by comparison. Rubio looked like a fraud.
When Gov. Chris Christie charged Rubio with repeating canned, 25 second speeches, Rubio responded by repeating the canned 25 second speech he had just uttered. Christie chimed in, “There it is!” I know that the Republican electorate is sometimes skeptical of data. They have not warmed to global warming. But, here the evidence was right before their eyes. And, if they missed it the first time, Rubio repeated the same lines a third time, with the same cadence in his voice. It could have been a Saturday Night Live skit.
Four years ago, Texas Gov. Rick Perry had a bad moment in a debate when he was unable to name the third of three government agencies he had pledged to shutter. It was a bad moment and the press played that clip over and over again. But, the regular voter knows what it is like to lose one’s train of thought, and to forget an item on a checklist. They do not have the experience of memorizing canned 25 second speeches or, if they have, it is because they participated in their local community theater troupe. These latter people, of course, know that they are acting, that their aunts did not, in fact, give poisoned elderberry wine to old men and bury them in the basement as happens in “Arsenic and Old Lace” or just because they can say “Et tu, Brute?” does not mean they are Julius Caesar.
The pundits said that Rubio regained his footing in the second half of the debate, but what I witnessed was more canned speechifying.
Last month, after another debate, I noted that Rubio’s performance was too scripted and that it would wear thin over time. I could not have anticipated that he would crash and burn so spectacularly, responding to a charge by giving precise evidence of the charge’s truthfulness. It was stunning. He might as well have worn a sign around his neck reading "Phony."