After an extremely solid third debate performance, Senator Marco Rubio once again finished on top in the fourth Republican debate. He managed to both effectively lay out his vision for a strong foreign policy agenda and parry the attacks that were lobbed his way.
There were far fewer fireworks at this debate than at previous ones. Unlike at the CNBC debate, where the moderators did viewers a disservice by making the candidates feud instead of focusing on policy (as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio masterfully pointed out), the viewers of this debate were actually able to learn a lot about the policies for which each of the candidates stand. Even so, some sparks did fly when Rubio effectively refuted Senator Rand Paul’s attacks on him on the topic of foreign policy. Rand also came off sounding downright childish, repeatedly saying “Marco, Marco,” and waving his pen (that has its own Twitter!)
In the same way that he “owned” Jeb Bush in the previous debate, Senator Rubio definitely got the better of Rand Paul. After Rubio called Paul a “committed isolationist,” (read this for five reasons why), Rand tried to strike back, claiming that “you cannot be a conservative if you’re going to keep promoting new programs you aren’t going to pay for.”As Jeb (and now Rand) learned the hard way, it’s hard to win an exchange with Rubio, and even liberal news outlets like Slate list him (along with Cruz) as the winners of the night.
Rubio has had multiple stories circulating about him for weeks that he has consistently refuted; on these issues he got a complete pass during the debate. Opponents’ claims that his credit card spending while with the Florida GOP was out of control was fact checked by the Washington Post; it concluded that, “a mountain’s been made out of molehill, by the media and Rubio’s opponents.” Rubio has also nullified criticism of his Senate voting record. He compared his voting record with Obama’s, highlighting how Barack Obama missed far more votes while running for president than Rubio, and was still elected President without calls for his resignation from the Senate.
Rubio’s point about turning the page on leaders of the past evokes Obama’s legacy as a candidate of a new generation. This was highly reminiscent of Obama’s portrayal of John McCain as a candidate of the past in 2008. Rubio promises Americans “A New American Century,” which is almost assuredly also a dig at Bush as well as Hillary. This is likely to be effective against the Democrats, given how old their field of candidates is. For proof of this, look no further than the 2008 election, where Obama soundly defeated John McCain, who had to grapple between his own candidacy and dealing with the legacy of a relatively unpopular president.
Rubio’s assertion that “welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers” was one of the most talked about lines of the night. Although many in the media rushed to conclude that this is false, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro rebutted their assertions by highlighting that “there are nearly one million jobs related to welding and machinery, and just about 23,000 jobs related to teaching philosophy. Median wage is therefore an idiotic measure [and] would be similar to saying that you're better off as a basketball player than a welder in America.” The purpose of this comment was to advocate for groups of Americans who can at times feel neglected by candidates running for president. Rubio’s defense of the working class has a significance that goes far beyond this debate. Republicans are too often portrayed as the party of the elite, and Rubio’s strong support for groups like the welders in America (that stand to benefit from the emphasis he will place on vocational education) will go a long way to dispel a myth that has plagued Republicans for some time.
To add my own fact check, if you do that math and calculate the total income generated by the 23,000 jobs that pertain to teaching philosophy and multiply it by the top 10 percent of philosophy teachers, you get around $4.4 billion. If you multiply the 900,000 (and this is rounding down from Shapiro’s claim that there are around a million welders) and multiply it by the significantly lower wage made by their top 10 percent (which averages to about $58,590), you get $52 billion. Although it might be true that philosophy majors make more money individually, welders as a whole make a lot more in terms of overall economic output. If this is is the biggest flaw the media can find with Rubio’s debate performance, I think it’s safe to say he had an excellent night.
The best way to assess the impact of Rubio’s debate performance is to see what the voters themselves think. I went to Iowa the day after the debate to an event that Rubio had in Davenport with four hundred people, many of whom had lined up outside it for well over an hour before the doors were set to open. His reception was tremendous, and he also touched on his line about philosophers by saying that "I am not going to win the philosophy vote in America. I'm going to find another major to pick on here soon." Rubio’s ability to deal with this “gaffe” head on at events like this stands in stark contrast to Hillary Clinton’s inability to deal with her unsecured email address, which she herself has said has been a “drip-drip-drip” controversy.
That event was also noteworthy because one of his supporters had printed off several dozen signs that he made that cleverly merged Rubio and Iowa into “Rubiowa.”
How do you pronounce that? “Victory.”
The image featured in this article was taken by Gage Skidmore. The original image can be found here.