Politics

Rubio’s New Hampshire Struggles Go Beyond Glitches

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. is interviewed during a campaign stop at Norton's Classic Cafe in Nashua, N.H., Monday Feb. 8, 2016.

CONCORD, NH — It has been a rough few days for Marco Rubio.

The Florida senator and presidential hopeful got viciously pummeled by rivals during Saturday’s GOP debate, and responded by robotically repeating a rehearsed attack on President Obama. In the following days, he repeated identical lines again and again. He used a similar phrase three times in a six minute speech in the basement of a pub in Concord on Monday afternoon, where a few dozen locals and nearly that many reporters gathered to hear Rubio’s final pitch.

As snowflakes began to fall outside, Rubio rushed into the room a few minutes late, jumped onto a low stage, and launched into his stump speech with his winter coat still zipped. He trailed off as a staffer motioned for him to take it off. After handing it off and chuckling uncomfortably, he resumed his talking points at full speed and full volume, tripping over his words as he blasted President Obama’s record on health care, foreign policy, and national security.

“After seven years of a president who’s been fundamentally changing America to make us more like the rest of the world, a president who has deliberately changed the relationship of our government to our economy, the role of government and our economy, who has deliberately undermined the constitution, who has deliberately cut America’s influence in the world, if we get this election wrong, I don’t know if we can turn back,” he said. “And I am convinced if we get this election wrong, we’re going to have to explain to our children why they did not inherit the great country our parents left for us.”

Rubio then walked straight past the voters, political tourists, and journalists who had gathered to ask him questions, and instead conducted a talk radio interview in an adjoining room. He continued to repeat the line about President Obama “deliberately changing” the country in TV interviews later that day, and at his final rally before election day, he got stuck in another verbal loop.

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Referencing these “glitches,” demonstrators associated with the progressive advocacy group American Bridge dressed up as “Marco Roboto” and started appearing at Rubio’s campaign stops.

This past week has also featured Rubio backer Rick Santorum struggling in a live interview to name any of Rubio’s accomplishments, and accusations that Rubio staffers racially profiled black journalism students covering his New Hampshire campaign events. Reporters have also witnessed him having a series of uncomfortable interactions with voters, most memorably with a middle-aged gay man who confronted him about his vows to ban same-sex marriage.

Though another popular line in Rubio’s New Hampshire speeches has been a promise to expand the reach of the Republican Party to appeal to groups that usually vote for Democrats, he has refused to amend any of his far-right positions on everything from gay marriage to climate change, which his own party leaders say are preventing young people, people of color, and LGBT people from voting Republican.

“[W]e do need to make sure young people do not see the Party as totally intolerant of alternative points of view,” the Republican National Committee concluded after losing the White House in 2012. That same report strongly urged Republicans to embrace immigration reform, which Rubio briefly did in 2013 before abandoning the effort and promising only increased border security and deportations.

As voting begins in New Hampshire, some polls have Rubio in second place, yet with still around half the support of frontrunner Donald Trump. Other polls have him trailing in fourth place. Though the state’s large contingent of independent voters could offer up a surprise Tuesday night, Rubio seems to have failed to achieve the New Hampshire breakout he was hoping for.

Yet you wouldn’t know this from his campaign events, where he has been mobbed by enthusiastic supporters. “You’re an inspiration, man,” one voter told him Monday in Nashua. Others praised him in Spanish, shouting, “Marco numero uno” and “Te quiero, Marco.”

“I’m totally for Rubio, from the first time I saw him in New Hampshire,” Maria Biglow told ThinkProgress. “Nothing will change my mind. He’s substantial. Many of the other politicians they just talk, blah blah blah. But he’s genuine. He’s very eloquent. I can see his heart when he speaks.”

Diego Cataño, an Air Force veteran and Manchester resident, also praised Rubio’s temperament. “Out of all the candidates, like Marco Rubio the best,” he said. “He has stayed out of all the fights and the arguments and has just been nice and calm about everything instead of throwing mud.”

On Tuesday night, New Hampshire’s voters will decide the political fate of the youngest candidate in the 2016 race, a man only a few years ago touted as the Republican savior. If Rubio performs poorly after coming in third in Iowa, the viability his campaign will be in serious doubt.