Commentary Magazine


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Has the Rubio Smear Campaign Hurt His VP Prospects?

There have been several Sen. Marco Rubio “bombshells” out during the past six months or so that initially receive a lot of attention in the press but fizzle under scrutiny.

First there was the escandalo Univision story about the senator’s brother-in-law who was arrested on a drug-dealing charge – when Rubio was 16-years-old. Then there was the WaPo scoop about Rubio supposedly lying about the timeline about his family’s escape from Cuba – when in fact there has been no evidence that the timeline discrepancies were anything other than an honest mistake. Finally, BuzzFeed broke the “Rubio was a Mormon” story, which revealed that his family briefly converted to Mormonism for a few years when he was in elementary school.

At WaPo, Marc Thiessen writes about how this whisper-campaign against Rubio has already started shifting the mainstream narrative about him. While he’s still at the top of most analysts’ lists for the VP pick, they’re starting to express doubts about his past:

The Great Whisperer has used these stories to plant seeds of doubt about Rubio: How well do we really know this guy? What else is there in his record? Indeed, the whispers are making their way into the mainstream commentary. Even in ranking Rubio first on his vice presidential list, The Post’s Chris Cillizza writes, “We hear whispers that his time in the state legislature could be mined by a good opposition researcher.” And this month, the National Journal downgraded Rubio’s position on its vice presidential power rankings because, it claimed, Rubio “skated into office without much of his past being vetted in the media. That would change in a hurry if he’s tapped for the vice presidency, and coming four years after Sarah Palin had such trouble adjusting to harsh scrutiny, that’s a very real concern for some Republicans. After all, Tallahassee has its own secrets.” (Miami Herald political reporter Marc Caputo vigorously disputes the suggestion that Rubio was elected without proper scrutiny by the Florida press corps.)

The National Journal makes the Sarah Palin 2008 comparison, which might make some iota of sense if Rubio hadn’t been a prominent figure on the national stage for the past two years. And are we supposed to believe he never came under scrutiny prior to that from the very capable and very ample Florida press corps during his years as Speaker of the House of Representatives in the state?

Rubio has also just hired his own opposition researcher to rummage through his past, Thiessen reports – a sure sign that his seriousness far outpaces Palin’s in 2008. So the fact that reporters are still being spun up about the supposed lack of vetting Rubio is clearly an indication of how nervous Democrats are about the prospects of him being tapped for the Republican VP slot.