By ALEX DRAGONE
Senior Staff Writer
After the Republican 2016 presidential debates in Milwaukee, Wis. on Tuesday, Nov. 10, political pundits widely crowned Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as the night’s winner.
Rubio was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010 as part of the Tea Party movement after serving in the Florida House of Representatives for eight years. His political experience, Latino ethnicity (appealing to a demographic usually loyal to the Democrats), relative youthfulness at 44 years old and can-do attitude makes him an attractive option to the Republican establishment.
He also holds establishment Republican views on lowering taxes, increasing military spending and more foreign intervention. However, his political experience may actually be a hindrance in this primary season in which those with no political experience have surged in popularity, and those with government experience have fallen.
At the debate, Rubio presented himself as a young optimist, ready to lead the nation into a “new American century.” His closing statement was emblematic of the vision he was trying to put forward.
“We will not just save the American Dream, we will expand it to reach more people and change more lives than ever before,” he said.
However, some thought that Rubio was too polished, lacking the charisma of candidates such as Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina who are not career politicians.
“He can — and did at times Tuesday night — come across as slightly too rehearsed, like the student reciting things back to the teacher from memory but without actually understanding what any of it means,” Chris Cillizza said in The Washington Post.
One highlight came when Rubio sparred with Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky over military spending. When Rubio touted his planned expansion of child-tax credits as a pro-family policy, Paul contested that one cannot be fiscally conservative when promoting expensive domestic policies, like the tax credits, while supporting a trillion dollar increase in military spending.
“You cannot be a conservative if you keep promoting programs that you’re not going to pay for,” Paul said.
In response, Rubio discussed American military might and what he said were threats to the nation.
“We can’t even have an economy if we’re not safe. There are radical jihadists in the Middle East beheading people and crucifying Christians. A radical Shia cleric in Iran trying to get a nuclear weapon. The Chinese taking over the South China Sea,” Rubio said. “I know that the world is a safer and better place when America is the strongest military power.”
The speech sent the audience into applause, demonstrating the GOP’s strong regard for military power and intervention.
Rubio currently ranks third in RealClearPolitics polling for the Republican nomination. He trails behind Ben Carson and Trump. Since the debate on Nov. 10, Rubio has seen a 0.5 percent increase in the polls.
Ian Anderson, vice president of the College Republicans National Committee (CRNC), still doesn’t think that Rubio will win the nomination.
“He already had his moment in the sun. People forget the pre-Donald Trump polls where he was polling at 20 to 25 percent. He was the Republican darling,“ Anderson said. “Although we’re seeing a slight bump, Marco Rubio has been increasing, and that’s mostly because he is moving away from Jeb Bush… and he actually has a much lower ceiling of support than people are talking about.”
Anderson also discussed Cruz’s role in the election.
“I think Rubio is completely something the establishment is pointing to, saying ‘Oh, he can be our candidate since Bush is failing,’” Anderson said.
“But I don’t think the establishment can have a candidate in this election. I honestly think Trump has a great chance, but I think [Sen. Ted] Cruz is the dark horse in this election. You truly get the different components of the Republican Party [with Cruz].”
CRNC President Nitin Nainani also voiced skepticism about Rubio.
“He’s polling eight points less than when he first announced [in April],” Nainani said. “This surge is overblown by the media. He still needs to pass Trump for me to consider him a frontrunner.”
Nainani cited Rubio’s political prowess and experience as a positive factor but also brought up Rubio’s indecision on immigration issues. His views have become increasingly anti-immigration throughout his campaign.
“He’s probably one of the most polished and natural politicians on the stage. But he has trouble answering questions for which he’s not prepared,” Nainani said. “He’ll come under more scrutiny. He’s taking more hits from Bush, Trump and Paul over immigration and foreign policy. I want to see him when he’s not prepared.”