Marco Rubio’s campaign has been dogged by criticisms likening his lack of experience to that of then-freshman Senator Barack Obama. Rubio has repeatedly — and now-infamously — sought to waive off such criticisms by arguing that Obama’s flaw is not inexperience, but rather that he “knows exactly what he’s doing”– a scripted talking point, which has been diligently reiterated by his campaign staff.
However, in 2008, Alex Conant–Rubio’s current communications director, then-spokesman for the RNC–repeatedly argued that the freshman Senator was too “inexperienced” to be President.
“Alex Conant, an RNC spokesman, said that the Democratic leaders ‘are out-of-step with millions of rank-and-file Democrats who worry that Obama does not have the judgment or experience needed to be commander in chief,” The Hill reported in June of 2008:
‘Obama is inheriting a Democratic Party that’s badly divided, disenfranchised millions of voters in Michigan and Florida, and been badly out-raised by the Republicans,” Conant said. “In contrast, John McCain is leading a united Republican Party that’s well-prepared for the general election.'”
Conant similarly expressed skepticism that Obama’s selection of advisers would help “convince” the American people that he has proper experience necessary for the job. “A photo op with a few hand-picked experts who he agrees with will not convince the American people that Obama has the judgment and experience necessary to be commander in chief,” Conant told the Washington Times.
In August of 2008, Conant said that the Republican Party could potentially “reach out to Democrats who think Obama’s not ready.”
“We should not elect somebody as untested and inexperienced as Obama,” Conant said in October of 2008. As the New York Times reported at the time:
The Republican National Committee issued a pre-buttal to the speech, highlighting one of the now-classic themes of their side, what they say is Mr. Obama’s inexperience:
‘Barack Obama is a weak closer precisely because his closing arguments ignore voters’ underlying concerns about his inexperience,’ Alex Conant, a spokesman for the R.N.C., said in a statement. “At a time when America faces historic crises, we should not elect somebody as untested and inexperienced as Obama.'”
In 2011, as a spokesman for Tim Pawlenty, Conant similarly criticized Michele Bachmann for lack of experience. The Hill wrote:
As Bachmann has surged in the polls, Pawlenty has increased his criticism of her. On Sunday, he told NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ that her ‘record of accomplishment in Congress is nonexistent.’ One day later, he was on the attack again, telling Fox News that Bachmann gave ‘great speeches’ but lacked the executive experience to lead the nation. And once again, he dubbed her congressional record ‘nonexistent.’ That characterization has become so prevalent that his campaign’s spokesman, Alex Conant, tweeted out the attack on Monday.
This attack may now strike some as ironic given the fact that Bachmann served on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Rubio has repeatedly asserted that his alleged foreign policy experience stems from his time on the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee.
As the New York Times writes in a piece entitled, “Marco Rubio Says Reviewing Classified Reports Has Prepared Him For White House,” Rubio recently told voters: “As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I have access to the most classified information in this government — equal basically to what the president sees except not at the same time. No one else in the race has access to that. I’ve had it for four or five years.”
Yesterday, Rubio attacked Republican rival Jeb Bush–who surpassed him in the New Hampshire primary–for having “no foreign policy experience…The world has changed a lot in the last ten years. Foreign policy has changed a lot in the last five years. No one on that stage has more experience or has shown better judgment or has shown a better understanding of national security threats than I have.”
However, as reports have documented, “in recent months Rubio has missed a slew of Foreign Relations hearings and classified briefings, records show,” writes the Tampa Bay Times:
In January, Rubio missed an intelligence briefing on ISIS and two other classified briefings because he was fundraising in California. In April he missed a closed Intelligence Committee briefing while in Texas raising money. And in September he missed a Foreign Relations hearing on the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East.
In November, the “Senate Foreign Relations Committee went behind closed doors for a briefing titled, ‘The Aftermath of Paris: America’s Role.’ But Sen. Marco Rubio was not there… [he was] on his way to California for fundraising.”
You learn more watching your show or reading The New York Times than you do going to these so-called intelligence briefings. Marco is on Senate Intel. So, he knows the state of the world better than any of his Senate colleagues who are not on Senate Intel and certainly better than the other candidates. So, the fact that he may missed some pomp and circumstance public meeting, where none of us learn anything, doesn’t bother me at all.”
Gowdy’s declaration that you learn more from the New York Times than you do from “these so-called intelligence briefings” may strike some as a peculiar line of defense considering the fact that much of Rubio’s alleged experience stems from his role on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Daniel Horowitz recently pointed out that Rubio’s record contradicts his assertion that he is more knowledgeable on national security threats than his rivals:
Feeling the heat that his only accomplishment in the Senate was promoting Obama’s immigration policy, Rubio told a group of New Hampshire voters that his experience as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee qualifies him to be president… This declaration from Rubio begs a more discerning question. If Rubio sat on the Intel Committee during his Senate tenure and was privy to information on the national security threats we face, how could he have simultaneously pushed the Gang of Eight immigration bill? […] During the January 14 Fox Business debate, Rubio defended his support of open borders in 2013 by asserting that, ‘[T]wenty-four months ago, 36 months ago, you did not have a group of radical crazies named ISIS who were burning people in cages and recruiting people to enter our country legally.’ […] Certainly, Senator Rubio could have seen the harm of his bill to our national security from his perch on the much-vaunted Senate intel panel. Senators Cruz and Sessions have identified over 72 suspected terrorists with questionable immigration histories dating back two decades… Yet, Rubio relentlessly promoted his bill… Had Rubio succeeded in seeing is signature accomplishment become law, could you imagine how many additional security risks the Obama administration would have admitted? […] It’s quite evident that either Marco Rubio was not very attentive during those intel briefings or if he was, he exhibited bad judgment, overlooking the national security concerns many of us voiced about his bill at the time.
Indeed, Rubio and his staff worked tirelessly to push the Rubio-Schumer amnesty bill through the Senate. Rubio’s decision to hire Alex Conant onto his campaign staff is perhaps significant, as Conant became well-known to conservative media in 2013 for relentlessly pushing debunked talking points about the Gang of Eight bill.
At the time, Conant repeatedly told conservative reporters that the Rubio-Schumer proposal would “result in the toughest immigration and border enforcement in US history.” Conant said that enforcement would precede amnesty and that Rubio would not support a bill that “does not secure our borders.” However, just last month, Conant admitted that Rubio’s bill did not “secure the borders first.”
In fact, Conant seemed so convinced of the importance of granting citizenship–and, by extension, welfare access and voting privileges–to illegal immigrants that he suggested that those who opposed Rubio’s plan to grant citizenship to illegal aliens were akin to promoters of slavery. As The Washington Examiner‘s Conn Carroll noted at the time, “For those of you keeping score at home, Rubio spokesman @AlexConant just compared all Schumer-Rubio opponents to slave owners.”
At this point, it is unclear whether Rubio will be able to dispel the notion that he is the Republican Obama. Indeed, Mike Murphy, who runs Jeb Bush’s SuperPac, recently tweeted out a video demonstrating the rhetorical similarities between Obama and Rubio.
Similarly, La Opinion, the nation’s largest daily Spanish-language newspaper, recently featured Sen. Rubio on its cover portrayed in the infamous “hope and change” imagery that defined Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
However, as conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly has explained, there is one key difference between the two freshmen Senators, turned Presidential hopefuls. While Obama represented the core views of his progressive base, Sen. Rubio–who champions large-scale immigration, amnesty and refugee resettlement–represents the views of the Republican donor base, not its voter base. In her 15-page Rubio “betrayal” memo, Schlafly wrote, “Senator Rubio is not Main Street’s Obama, he is Wall Street’s Obama: President Obama was a hardcore leftist running as centrist; Senator Rubio is a Wall Street globalist running as a tea party conservative.”