An adage about strategic patience in politics advises, “Wait, and your opponents will show you who they fear.” If Republicans and conservatives calculate their 2016 presidential hopes on Democratic and progressive fears, then Marco Rubio may well be the frontrunner for the nomination by winning The New York Times primary. A series of bungled attacks on Rubio and his wife by the paper has given the freshman Senator from Florida more buzz than any other contender in the race.
It began last week when The Times assigned two reporters and a researcher to blow the lid off the dangerous driving practices of the Republican contender and his wife Jeanette, who they reported had collected seventeen traffic tickets over the last seventeen years. Only it turned out that the candidate himself had only received four tickets, while his wife – who isn’t running for any office – had 13 in the same period of time. She had also sustained an accident recently in her husband’s Ford F-150 pickup truck, which The Times first described as a “sport-utility vehicle,” quietly changing it later to “truck” without noting the correction.
Why Jeanette Rubio’s driving needs public airing in a New York newspaper is a question that The Times still hasn’t answered. For that matter, they haven’t explained the news value of Rubio’s four moving violations in 17 years. He didn’t have the tickets quashed through an exercise of power, but instead hired a lawyer to deal with them and went to traffic school, as did his wife, to clear his record.
The records of the tickets would come back to bite the Paper of Record, however. The Washington Free Beacon checked the Miami-Dade system to see who had acquired copies of the Rubio records, and discovered that the last access had come ten days prior to The Times’ publication – by people working for American Bridge, a Democrat-affiliated opposition research firm.
The Times claimed that they got the records from a document retrieval service, which calls into question why the paper would have assigned two reporters and a researcher to the story. Later checks on the records again showed that the last access to all of the records were on May 26th for the American Bridge researchers, Free Beacon reporter Brent Scher told me that evening.
Still reeling from widespread derision over their big scoop, The Times came back with another story Monday on Rubio about his supposedly profligate spending and “penchant for luxury.” This article actually did briefly cover some substantive, if old, issues about the Republican Party of Florida and its sloppy accounting practices in the last decade, to which Rubio had a small connection. That issue got subsumed by The Times’ desire to paint Rubio as personally profligate and irresponsible, focusing on his student debt, low savings rate, and purchases such as a house that was “among the most expensive in West Miami” and a “luxury speedboat” that cost $80,000.
Only a strange thing happened. Instead of painting Rubio as a profligate “bedeviled by financial struggles,” the Times described the success story of many in Rubio’s generation. True, at times Rubio appeared overextended, but his $300,000 salary from his law practice put him on solid ground for his real estate ventures.
The Times found a financial adviser to call his liabilities “staggering” and “dangerous,” but never mentioned that the advisor, Harold Evensky, was an Obama donor in 2007– another fact discovered by the Free Beacon and not disclosed by The Times. Only after sixteen paragraphs did The Times note that the Rubios had settled their debt a few years earlier, begun a broad plan for savings and college funds, and put themselves on sound footing.
The Times’ idea of “luxury” underscored the middle-class nature of the Rubios, too. The description of a “luxury speedboat” evoked images of cigarette boats running off the coast of Miami, but the craft turned out to be a 24-foot fishing boat with two outboard motors, in a city where a boat is almost de rigueur for residents of any means.
The house in West Miami purchased by the Rubios in 2005, with its “in-ground pool,” had previously been described by Politico and other media outlets as relatively humble. Its 2700 square feet might be a step above some of the other homes in the “Hispanic enclave,” but an appropriate size for Marco and Jeanette to raise four children. “There is nothing opulent about their home,” Politico wrote in 2012, “but it is warm and bright and simply decorated with white and brown furniture.”
Two years ago, a self-professed skeptic from the Sun Sentinel visited the Rubio household to confirm Rubio’s description of his residence. “In the case of his claim that he lives in a “working-class neighborhood,” score one for Rubio in the truth column,” wrote Michael Mayo. “I have to back him on this.”
In other words, the Rubios had gone through many of the same struggles that younger professionals had endured. Neither of them came from wealthy families, and while their twenties and thirties were financially challenging, they had managed to modestly prosper and settle down not far from where Rubio grew up.
While the Clintons deal with their massive fortune earned by exploiting their connections to power and public trust, the Rubios seem more accessible to mainstream America than ever. The story turns out so well that MSNBC’s Chris Hayes wondered on Twitter whether Rubio was planting the stories in The Times as “false flags made to make him look sympathetic.”
This fight with The Times did more than make Rubio a more sympathetic candidate. It rallied conservatives around him while prompting media analysts to criticize the Paper of Record as reckless and biased. Conservatives also noticed the nimbleness of Team Rubio and their response effort. In 2008 and 2012, Republican voters felt frustrated by presidential campaigns that didn’t have good reflexes in the media battles; this showed the rank-and-file that Rubio and his team aren’t afraid to play hardball in the major leagues.
The primary debates are still months away, and the first chance for voters to cast ballots even farther off. Rubio may have just passed a major test and at the same time performed a favor to the rest of the Republican field. The New York Times may hope to pick the next President, but they may get their wish in a completely unforeseen way.
Top Reads from The Fiscal Times: