02.13.13 11:33 AM ET
Marco Rubio, Substitute Teacher
Let me just put it this way. I follow a number of conservative pundits on my Twitter feed, and while Marco Rubio was talking, I sure didn't notice them lighting up the switchboard, as it were. At point Ramesh Ponnuru tweeted: "Rubio is doing well I think but why does he keep touching his face?"
A bigger question about his physical actions would, of course, present itself in short order. That was the most ill-advised drink of liquid since Socrates took hemlock. It will dominate commentary and late-night, and it deserves to. Just bush league. And the way he kept nervously looking at the camera...
Otherwise he wasn't bad. It wasn't a failure. And I don't think he's a complete lightweight. He gave a good speech at the GOP convention. But he didn't succeed last night at all. Two reasons.
First, Quixote-like, he kept tilting at the right-wing caricature of Obama that only right-wingers buy into. I doubt very strongly at this point that most Americans will just sit there listening to how Barack Obama opposes the free enterprise system and think that it makes sense to them. No. It doesn't. The R's could sell middle Americans on that idea when the memory of the stimulus was fresh, and when the jobless rate was 9 percent. But with things getting better, that's a story that only conservatives believe. They make the error of continuting to believe that others believe it.
Second, and this isn't really his fault but just the way it is, he doesn't have the gravitas yet. His voice doesn't have enough depth to it. He looks sort of young, as many have observed, but he sounds younger, and that's the issue. He comes across like the proverbial substitute teacher. You know you can throw spitballs in his class, and he's not going to have the authority to make you stop.
You either have that weight or you don't. I know conservatives will say that the idea that Obama had it in 2007 is a joke, but they're wrong. Obama tapped into very deep yearnings in the country rhetorically, yearnings that weren't limited to Democrats. That's what gave him gravitas. Rubio did a little of that--he has a nice immigrant's story to tell. But it's too many right-wing talking points.
Backed up, I should note, by right-wing reality. Yesterday afternoon, Rubio was one of just 22 senators to vote against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. Nice. Savior? He has a long way to go.