What is the New York Times doing? In the space of a week, the paper has published no fewer than two exposés on the Florida senator running for the presidency that amount to veritable in-kind contributions to Marco Rubio’s campaign. Though these dubious investigations have prompted reliably credulous pundits to gasp in horror, it’s unclear that they will have any negative effect on Rubio’s presidential prospects. Quite the opposite, in fact; by overshooting Rubio’s bow on two separate occasions, the Times risks making one of the GOP’s brightest prospects a target of sympathy among precisely the voters to whom he needs to appeal in order to win his party’s presidential nomination.
The Times’ vetting of Rubio began late last week with an enticing tale of crass negligence on the roadways. The Times discovered that the Rubios were profligate scofflaws when it came to traffic violations. That’s right: speeding tickets. Marco Rubio, we learned, had received all of four moving violations over the course of nearly two decades. That’s hardly a story, and it would not have even made it to print had Rubio’s wife, Janette, not received 13 similar violations since 1997. The presidential candidate even hired a lawyer to try to get those violations expunged from his record and took a banal defensive driving course in order to reduce associated insurance penalties.
This is hardly the stuff that makes the Pulitzer board giddy, but it was not poor reporting. Every candidate for the White House deserves a through vetting, and the Times was well within its mission to print this information. But the political impact of the decision to dig into the Rubios driving records was perhaps not what they had anticipated.
The Washington Free Beacon’s Bret Scher soon revealed that no Times reporter had personally pulled the Rubios’ driving records from Miami-Dade court files, but a Democratic opposition research group recently had. When the Times was asked about whether or not they relied on a tip from a partisan research group for this story – a not uncommon practice, and one which would not have raised many eyebrows – the Times PR shop steadfastly refused to answer the question posed by a reporter with an outwardly conservative news site and instead provided Scher’s answer to Politico reporter Dylan Byers. If nothing untoward had occurred here, the Times certainly wasn’t acting like it.
What’s more, the dragging of a candidates’ spouse into the vetting process, particularly this early in the campaign, does raise ethical matters. For Democrats who of late have convinced themselves that women are routinely subjected to scrutiny otherwise not applied to men, the left has been curiously quiet about the Times decision to target Janette Rubio. Finally, as Jonathan Tobin noted, this story’s impact on the general electorate, much less GOP primary voters, is probably one that Marco Rubio would welcome. It projects youth and vitality (the elderly seldom speed or, in the Clintons’ case, drive at all). What’s more, the story stood as an indication that the former speaker of the Florida House declined to use his influence to hide or get out of these violations.
Almost everyone has been ticketed once or twice in their life, and that minor tribulation is a relatable hardship. Nevertheless, some in the pundit class took the bait. While most rightly dismissed the story, a handful of observers wondered if the GOP had suddenly become the party of lawlessness on our taxpayer-funded roadways. On Tuesday, the New York Times took a deeper dive into the Rubios records. This time, they dug into the couple’s financial history. As evidenced by the overwrought prose, the paper’s editors apparently thought that the details they uncovered could potentially disqualify Rubio from holding high office.
In the Times’ latest unflattering profile, they reveal that the 44-year-old Marco Rubio, a father of four, was not the most frugal parent in his mid-to-late 30s. The Times revealed that the Miami-area resident “splurged” on an $80,000 motorboat that he had always dreamed of owning. Manhattan-based reporters who feign shock at the notion that someone would take a defensive driving class at the request of their insurer might perhaps also be surprised to learn that $80,000 is a modest price for a luxury sea craft. The story goes on: Rubio used his own credit card to pay for campaign expenses. He liquidated a nearly $70,000 retirement account, incurring $24,000 in taxes and penalties, presumably to cover personal expenses. He sold a Florida home for an $18,000 loss after nearly facing foreclosure when he failed to meet the mortgage for five months.
The Times noted that the Rubios have largely righted their financial ship after the Florida senator began to earn substantial sums from writing and selling books. The couple has begun saving for college tuition for thier children, refinanced their home, now have six figures in savings, and even donated $60,000 to charity. Finally, after Rubio’s finances had recovered, they leased a $50,000 Audi. “Experts” who spoke with the Times call this and other decisions “imprudent.”
Predictably, some in the pundit class reacted with theatrically disproportionate astonishment.
“So, is the Rubio argument I wasn’t good at handling my personal finances, but put me in charge of trillions of dollars of others money?” ABC News contributor Matthew Dowd fretted.
“An impulsive, reckless spender who blurs ethical lines,” the National Journal’s Ron Fournier scoffed. “How does this reflect how @marcorubio would lead as POTUS?”
“I’m a bit baffled by the argument that personal fiduciary responsibility is unimportant to the job of being president,” The Washington Post’s Phillip Bump opined.
These and other columnists aghast at the Rubios behavior might be surprised to learn that the power of the purse is the constitutional responsibility of the legislative branch. The fact that the Rubios stretched their finances and, yes, treated themselves on occasion is not something to scold them over. If their behavior is to be condemned, so is that of the vast majority of the American middle class who behaves similarly in order to provide for their family’s immediate needs and desires.
When it comes to his personal finances, no one is claiming that Rubio acted in an unethical or mendacious manner. “I’m not poor,” Rubio once said, “but I’m not rich, either.” Contrast this comment with that of Hillary Clinton who exactly one year ago today declared that she and her husband were “dead broke” when they left the White House in 2001; a claim at odds with the fact that the former first family earned $12 million in that year alone.
Again, the pundit class is missing the likely political effect of the Times’ hit on the Rubios. The tale of a young family struggling to make ends meet and, on a handful of occasions, spending beyond their means in order to enjoy a bit of the good life is a common story. If anything, the New York Times has made Rubio more understandable to both average Americans and to those Republican primary voters who are deeply suspicious of the Grey Lady’s motives.
The New York Times seems to think that the Rubios profligacy when they were younger contradicts the senator’s present message of fiscal restraint on the macro level, but this is a tendentious contention. If anything, the Times has helped to craft a financial contrast with Hillary Clinton that will only benefit him if he were to emerge the GOP’s presidential nominee. What’s more, the impression that the talented Republican figure is the subject of reportorial persecution, even if that is an unfounded belief, will likely yield some sympathy from GOP primary voters.
The Rubios should send reporters in the New York Times newsroom a thank you card. That is, if they can afford the expense. The “newspaper of record” has done the senator’s campaign a great service.