Marco Rubio Watches Democratic Debate, Blows ‘Free Stuff’ Dog Whistle

CREDIT: AP Photo/John Locher

The morning after Democratic presidential candidates debated gun policy, structural racism, and the America’s proper geopolitical role, all Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) heard was bribery.

“It was basically a liberal versus liberal debate about who was going to give away the most free stuff,” Rubio said on Fox News early Wednesday. “Free college education, free college education for people illegally in this country, free health care, free everything.”

Watch the video, via TPM:

Rubio is the second Republican presidential candidate in the past three weeks to depict Democrats’ policy priorities as an exercise in vote-buying. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush told a mostly-white South Carolina crowd in late September that his approach to African-American voters “isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting, that says you can achieve earned success.”

This depiction of policies to promote affordable housing and guarantee education and healthcare popped up in the 2012 election too. “If they want more stuff from government, tell them to go vote for the other guy — more free stuff,” Mitt Romney told a crowd of donors after a rough outing before the NAACP’s national convention.

Rubio’s remarks paper over Hillary Clinton’s insistence that tuition-free college education should be conditioned upon work-study, not just given away. But even setting the specific inaccuracies of his analysis aside, the senator’s comments suggest a blind spot. Republicans offer up free stuff too — deciding who gets what and who pays for it all is sort of the core function of government policy after all — but they bestow their gifts on a different set of people.

The party Rubio and Bush are competing to lead promises to cut taxes on giant corporations that already pay lower effective rates than many working families. It wants to lower taxes in ways that would primarily benefit the already well off. It wants to continue subsidizing wealthy families through popular tax deductions that give people “free stuff” more inconspicuously than food stamps or Medicaid.