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February 07, 2016

"Rubio's Glitch"

(Bumped up by Drew)

That's what it's being called.

Chris Christie told Rubio exactly how he'd hit him. He told him exactly where he'd hit him.


First of all, let me get this out of the way: Rubio is a good candidate. He's well prepared. He's presentable. He seems nice.

However, something has been bugging many of us about him. Besides amnesty. Maybe it was amnesty that caused us to see him in a more hostile light, but nevertheless, in that hostile light, we were seeing something that we couldn't quite put our finger on, that we couldn't quite explain, but that we didn't like.

Mickey Kaus pretty much explained it a few days ago, however. Kaus spoke of Rubio's 25 second canned soundbites as "modules" which could be moved around and reorganized on the fly to answer a range of questions in a not-quite-lifelike manner:

I went to see Marco Rubio’s town hall this afternoon in Salem, New Hampshire. It was only a few miles from my hotel--I really had no excuse. I wanted to find out: Was Rubio really as slick and insubstantial in this setting as John Edwards? Answer: No. He's slicker. He's slicker, in part, because he at least seems a bit spontaneous, with a slightly goofy, human quality...

When it comes to substance, Rubio draws on an inventory of well-prepared rhetorical modules, with just enough policy to sound sophisticated, that can be inserted where necessary to handle, say, the how-would-you-handle-ISIS question (Sunni ground army!) or disability benefits (get rid of phony claims!). There's not much sacrifice involved in any of Rubio's proposals -- even avoiding budget apocalypse, which he claims to be very concerned about, is just a matter of raising the retirement age and slowing benefit hikes for the well-off. Nothing that hasn’t been floating around Washington for years. There's a heavy emphasis on electability. Big, difficult questions (like robots taking everyone’s jobs) are ignored. Tellingly, however, Rubio has added a Trump Module, where he alludes to anger at stagnant wages.

He’s got an immigration module too....

All of this is mildly terrifying. If Rubio's a "robot," as many have charged, he's a sophisticated new model robot with simulated humanistic elements and a charm algorithm. And if he still seems insubstantia--which he does--it's a higher level of insubstantial than you expect: You don't get the impression he's actually thought through these problems, but he knows his modules.

So that's what's bugging people about Rubio: He is robotic, just repeating well-rehearsed, crowd-pleasing but fairly glip and insubstantial "modules." He's almost failing the Turing Test.

Chris Christie announced he'd be going after Rubio on his android-like repetitiveness and shallowness.

Rubio shouldn't have been surprised. And yet, somehow, he was.

Not only did Chris Christie prove his point, but like a misfiring robot -- many people are making that analogy, of an android melting down, or a computer stuck in a loop -- Rubio then kept making Chris Christie's point for him:


He actually repeated this five times in total, twice while Christie was telling him was just repeating his 25-second soundbites!


Everyone agrees -- from NR's very conservative David French to Politico to the New York Times and the Guardian -- that this was brutal, and that Rubio genuinely seemed like a 1960s robot trapped in a logic loop.

This is damaging because it's not merely a gaffe. This is a blow that hits Rubio in the heart of the argument for his candidacy.

Rubio is "electable," we're told, because he's well-prepared and likable.

But Chris Christie has exposed him to be simply a robot repeating shallow, poll-tested mini-answers. That cuts at the idea that he's well-prepared -- instead, it now looks like he just has a good memory -- and that he's likable -- instead, he just looks like, well, a robot programmed to say "Good day!"

People are shallow. I know this because I'm a person and I'm shallow as f***. And because people are shallow, they seize on ready-made Narratives to organize information. Information is hard to organize, but if you have a handy Narrative with hooks to hang each new piece of information, it keeps everything nice and tidy.

Narratives can also be false -- in fact, they almost always are. No story is as simple as the blurb would have it.

Nevertheless, people seize on Narratives because our brains just can't really handle how complex the world is, or politics is, or any individual person is.

So everyone gets a "book" on them, a short little description that is thought to be the Key to the whole, the Main Point, the blurb, the takeaway.

This is now part of book on Rubio -- and it now serves as the row of hooks from which all previous information is now hanged, and from which all future information will be hanged too.

And that's a big problem for Rubio, because while his answers are... well, I can't say good, I will just say "smooth," now people will hear those smooth answers and instead of saying "Gosh, what a smooth answer" they'll say "Oh another 25 second canned answer."

This is a Palinizing thing-- not that he's been "Palinized" per se, but in that once you heard Tina Fey's Palin impression, you couldn't not hear that when Palin spoke.

Similarly, I don't think Marco Rubio is going to be able to give his 25-second canned answers and have anyone not think, "Another one of Rubio's over-rehearsed 25-second canned answers."

Is this fatal? No, he still has his strengths. He's a smart guy. He's not dumb.

But it does hurt, because while people were previously thinking "What a smart guy, he gave us all those smooth answers," now they just will think "Oh, yeah, someone told him to memorize this and he did."

He'll have to do a bit of work to overcome this. Maybe he'll have to try to prepare less, so he we can see his mind actually engaging with a question, instead of just locating the most relevant "module" to repeat.

Maybe he can give a speech in which he lays out his Vision -- something he has not done, which is a fact his mini-modules serve to disguise.

And no, his growing up an immigrant's son is not a vision; that's just a good bit of biographical color.

But who knows, if the bubble boy can finally get out of the bubble and show something real, or something more substantial than 25-seconds of micro-wonk modules, maybe he can get back on track and be the Establishment's Great Last Hope again.

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posted by Ace at 12:24 PM

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