Marco Rubio has taken a lot of heat in the press for allowing Donald Trump to drag him into the gutter — a mistake even he has said he regrets — so journalists naturally applauded the Florida senator’s tonal reversal in Thursday’s Republican presidential debate in Miami.
They especially liked the way he stood up for Muslims after Trump doubled down on his recent declaration that “Islam hates us.”
"I know that a lot of people find appeal in the things Donald says cause he says what people wish they could say," Rubio said. "The problem is, presidents can't just say anything they want. It has consequences, here and around the world."
Rubio added: "I'm not interested in being politically correct. I'm interested in being correct."
even if he loses, rubio redeems himself a bit tonight pushing back on trump anti muslim rhetoric, and effectively
— Laura Rozen (@lrozen) March 11, 2016
excellent answer from Rubio on Islam and terrorism, and one that shows respect to Republican voters
— Ramesh Ponnuru (@RameshPonnuru) March 11, 2016
Rubio's tone on Muslims strikingly different from other debates & campaign trail rhetoric in early states. Certainly more presidential.
— Sabrina Siddiqui (@SabrinaSiddiqui) March 11, 2016
Rubio discusses radical Islam, but also highlights Muslim U.S. veterans who've given their lives, need to work with peaceful Muslims abroad.
— John McCormack (@McCormackJohn) March 11, 2016
This Rubio speech on Muslim soldiers is very different tone than some of his other comment on topic.
— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) March 11, 2016
Credit to Marco Rubio. His comments on Islam...were presidential. (Except I'm not sure that gets him many votes.)
— Michael Luo (@michaelluo) March 11, 2016
As Luo notes, a moment that played well in the media might not be such a big hit with Republican voters. In a Rasmussen poll last spring, two-thirds of GOP voters said most Muslims around the world view the United States as an enemy.
According to the Pew Research Center, 83 percent of Republicans are very concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism, 68 percent believe Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence, and 49 percent think Muslims should be subject to more scrutiny than members of other religions.
In December, when Trump proposed a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States, 59 percent of Republicans in a Washington Post-ABC News poll backed the idea. On Tuesday in Michigan, where Trump won the GOP primary, 62 percent of Republican voters said in an exit poll that they support the ban.
In short, many Republicans are deeply suspicious of Muslims, so this response from Rubio on Thursday might not do him any favors with his party's base.
One need not look far to find a Republican politician whose political calculus on Trump's Muslim rhetoric is vastly different from Rubio's. The governor of Rubio's home state, Rick Scott, was on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Thursday and refused four times to disagree with Trump's assertion that "Islam hates us."
The show's hosts ended the interview early because of Scott's evasiveness, but the governor had clearly decided it was better to appease the base than the media. Rubio refused to pander — and good for him — but don't expect GOP voters to reward him the way journalists did.