Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) finds himself in a precarious position this Christmas Eve: A New Hampshire newspaper is literally questioning, after a robotic, rehearsed talking points performance in front of its editorial staff, whether Rubio has a soul.
The report, written by the Conway Daily Sun’s Erik Eisele, opens by describing how Rubio’s “pointman” arrived early and sat in the newspaper office to prepare for the senator’s arrival. The newspaper office operated normally until Rubio walked through the doors. Eisele wrote:
When the senator finally arrived, however, everything shifted. Phones hung up, notebooks closed, computers went into sleep mode. Rubio made his way around smiling and shaking hands, and everyone stood to meet him. He took a comfy chair, thus beginning one more job interview for 2016’s toughest opening. In New Hampshire we’re lucky. We guard the frontline of presidential politics. Every four years the candidates come, wave after wave, to sit and discuss the issues, to interview for the job. It’s a democratic utopia, a dreamland for reporters, where the action is. But it’s a weird place too. It’s a place where you interact on a human level with people more prepared to address a television camera. It’s like they train to address crowds from podiums and lose the ability to engage a room of a dozen.
In the next paragraph, Eisele wrote that Rubio came across like a robotic politician reciting rehearsed poll-tested talking points, rather than being a genuine person—and literally questioned whether or not Rubio has a “soul,” since he and his colleagues didn’t see it on display there when the senator came in.
“That was Rubio. We had roughly 20 minutes with him on Monday, and in that time he talked about ISIS, the economy, his political record and his background,” Eisele wrote. “But it was like watching a computer algorithm designed to cover talking points. He said a lot, but at the same time said nothing. It was like someone wound him up, pointed him towards the doors and pushed play. If there was a human side to the senator, a soul, it didn’t come across through.”
Eisele acknowledges that this may be a “harsh critique” but then noted that Rubio’s robotic nature runs counter to what people in New Hampshire look for in a candidate, writing that “in essence that is the point of the New Hampshire primary, to test candidates in a retail politics setting.”
“Rubio said it himself: ‘New Hampshire is very town hall based,’ he told us, the politics ‘retail-oriented.’ After the New Hampshire primary, he said, it transforms into a media race, not a human race,” Eisele wrote. “But then he talked at us for 20 minutes. To him, we might as well have been television cameras.”
Eisele, in the next paragraph after that, detailed how Rubio was certainly not “charismatic” as a politician—another deadly criticism of the first-term U.S. Senator from Florida.
“Now maybe he was in a hurry. Or was tired after a long day of campaigning. Maybe our little paper wasn’t worth putting in the full retail effort. Whatever it was, if Rubio is charismatic, he wasn’t when he visited us,” Eisele wrote before, in the next paragraph, detailing that despite Rubio’s lack of personable skills. he is “smart.”
“It was easy to see he is brilliant, capable of winning political arguments,” Eisele wrote. “And maybe that’s what we should be looking for in a president — the smart guy. Maybe the transformation from human to politician is just part of the game today. In the modern media environment cell phone cameras run 24/7. There is always someone watching for any potential slip, looking to turn an offhand comment into a career-ending soundbyte.”
The blistering critique of Rubio’s lack of ability to engage in retail politics continues on for several more paragraphs.
Rubio’s spokesman Alex Conant has not responded to a request for comment in response to this piece from Eisele, but it comes in the wake of more troubling news for Rubio: The donor class is questioning whether or not he is in fact their best bet.
Under a headline “Rubio Reassures Nervous Donors His Strategy Is On Track,” Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reported late Wednesday that Rubio “is seeking to reassure donors amid mounting questions about his campaign schedule and political organization.”
“On a Tuesday afternoon call with national contributors, the Florida senator outlined his campaign trail activity and pushed back on the recent media narrative that he’s running a passive campaign, according to two participants on the call,” Isenstadt wrote before quoting Rubio responding to questions about whether he’ll be able to hang in there for the long haul as a presidential candidate.
“I’m amused at those stories,” Rubio said, per Isenstadt, who was reporting off notes provided to him by one call participant. “We said at the outset that this campaign was going to be about ideas and our messag, so we don’t spend much time talking about process or strategy.”
“Just because we aren’t telling the media our strategy doesn’t mean we’re not organized,” Rubio also said.
That’s a sharp contrast with, say, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)—who has basically laid out his entire campaign strategy in media interviews and even in speeches. Rubio’s unwillingness to tell people what he’s doing suggests he’s in a lot more trouble than the donor class and establishment media would have anyone believe.
Recent polling after the last debate in Las Vegas, Nevada, suggests a significant Rubio slide is underway. Rubio, who was once as high as 15 percent or more in the Reuters tracking poll a week before the CNN Debate moderated by Wolf Blitzer at the Venetian Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, has now dropped more than six full points down to just over eight percent in the past few days before Christmas.
The first poll since the debate, the Fox News Poll, showed a Rubio decline as well. Rubio, who in mid-November reached 14 percent in the Fox News Channel’s polling, has slipped down to just 11 percent in the latest Fox polling.
Rubio has also slipped to a tie in third place in the latest CNN-ORC post-debate poll, at just 10 percen, along with Dr. Ben Carson. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump both tower over Rubio in that poll, with Cruz earning 18 percent and Trump earning 39 percent.
Another poll, commissioned by the pro-big business Associated Industries of Florida, found that the donor class wunderkind wasn’t doing so hot in early states either.
In Rubio’s home state of Florida, he’s fallen back to third place behind both Trump and Cruz. Trump gets 29 percent in that poll, while Cruz gets 18 percent and Rubio earns just 17 percent. Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, earns just 10 percent. That means Trump is bigger than both Bush and Rubio—two politicians who have won statewide elections in Florida—combined. What’s more, Cruz surging past both of them is certainly troubling for both Floridians on their home turf.
The poll also found Trump and Cruz are both handily beating Rubio in New Hampshire. Trump sits atop the field in the Granite State with 24 percent, Cruz comes in second with 16 percent, and Rubio earns just 14 percent. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gets 13 percent and Bush gets nine percent there.
And in South Carolina, the poll finds Trump and Cruz tied for 27 percent atop the field. Both candidates have more support than the next two candidates combined: Rubio with 12 percent and Carson with 11 percent. There, Bush earns just seven percent.
The debate in Las Vegas was perhaps Rubio’s roughest to date, as both Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) came out guns-a-blazing against him on everything from Rubio’s work with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on the “Gang of Eight” amnesty bill last Congress to defense spending to the National Security Agency (NSA) mass surveillance program and more.