At Saturday’s GOP debate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) sounded more like a broken record than a rising front-runner.
As New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) repeatedly hit him for relying too much on talking points, Rubio repeatedly fell back on … his talking points. He repeated a version of his stump speech — President Obama is deliberately changing this country for the worse; Rubio will get things back on course — three times, opening himself up to this damaging attack:
Christie criticizes Rubio saying he memorized a "25-second speech that is exactly what his advisers gave him." pic.twitter.com/QX3fSwVgkQ
— ABC News (@ABC) February 7, 2016
It should be noted that all politicians, of course, use talking points, whether on the campaign trail or the debate stage. Christie, in criticizing Rubio for falling back on one, was actually using his own talking point about how scripted Washington lawmakers are.
One of the dangers of talking points, though, is that you get stuck on that message and can't think on your feet and offer unique thoughts. That's what seemed to happen to Rubio on Saturday night in a very obvious way.
And Rubio is arguably one of this cycle’s most repeat talking-point offenders. As The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan noted during the debate: “Much of what Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) says in the debates sounds similar to what he says on the campaign trail. Very, very similar.”
Still, Rubio often delivers his lines with such conviction that they are generally well-received — even if some in the audience (and watching at home) have heard it before.
That’s what made Rubio’s Saturday trip-up all the more interesting to witness. Prodded on by a passionate and on-the-attack Christie, Rubio simply seemed to short circuit. His almost rote, word-for-word repetition at these debates was suddenly, painfully on display.
Here are four talking points we’ve noticed Rubio falls back on a lot:
1. “Hillary Clinton is disqualified to be president”
Hillary Clinton and her use of a private email server while secretary of state figures prominently into Rubio’s pitch. Here, he’s insinuating that because the FBI is investigating what classified information crossed her server (the FBI is not investigating her directly), she “is above the law.”
He also uses this line to draw attention to an oft-repeated accusation on the right that Clinton wasn’t forthright to the families who lost loved ones in the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. (The Washington Post’s Fact Checker gave Rubio 2 out of 4 Pinocchios for this claim, saying “he does not have enough evidence to label Clinton a liar.”)
Rubio has said some version of this in the sixth and seventh debates.
2. “Barack Obama is systematically changing America”
Here, Rubio is trying to put high stakes on the outcome of November’s election. From Obamacare to the Iranian nuclear deal, Obama has put the country on a nearly irreversible liberal track, one that can only be stopped by Rubio himself. (See another one of his favorite talking points: “That's why this election is truly a referendum on our identity as a nation, as a people. Our future is at stake.”)
Rubio said some version of this in the second, fourth, sixth and seventh and eighth debates.
3. Get “illegal immigration under control”
The two men Rubio must overtake to get the lead in the nomination, Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), are hard-liners on immigration who have suggested building a wall along the border. So Rubio’s talking point on immigration attempts to walk back his leadership on a 2013 immigration reform bill that included a path to citizenship.
He’s since said it was a mistake not to focus on securing the border first, hence this talking point now: “It is very clear there will be no progress on this issue in any way, shape or form, until you prove to the people of this country that illegal immigration is under control.”
Another popular one references his parents’ immigration to the United States from Cuba: “I know immigration better than anyone on this stage because I have lived it.”
Rubio said some version of these lines in the first, second, fifth, seventh and eighth debate.
4. The Islamic State is “an apocalyptic group”
Talking about how to defeat the Islamic State is tough for any candidate, since there are no good answers in that volatile region for a war-weary nation. So Rubio often falls back on trying to define what the Islamic State is — often in the most stark terms: “ISIS is not just a jihadist group; they’re an apocalyptic group. They want to trigger a showdown in a city named Dabiq between the West and themselves which they believe will trigger the arrival of their messianic figure.”
Rubio says fighting such a “dangerous” group will require troops on the ground, though he hasn’t said how much and said he would like for the contingent to be mostly Arab fighters.
Rubio said some version of this in the second, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth debate.