Marco Rubio’s “robotic” performance during Saturday night’s Republican debate was bad, yes. But it wasn’t unprecedented.
To recap, when Chris Christie accused Rubio of just repeating talking points, Rubio quickly repeated a talking point. And then again. And again. A gleeful Chris Christie offered color commentary: “There it is, the memorized 25-second speech.”
Rubio’s repetitions—especially when edited together into a greatest-hits package—are eerily reminiscent of one of my favorite political videos. (David noticed the parallel too.) Here is then-British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband in 2011:
What both Rubio and Miliband are demonstrating here is a sort of foolish savvy: It’s the wisdom of the politician (and his advisers) who knows that it’s important to make sure you know what you’re saying and to stay on message, but doesn’t realize how bad it looks to seem inflexible and programmed. Miliband’s line in this clip isn’t bad the first time, if a little drab, and if the BBC had only played the soundbite, he might have come across well. But watch him deliver reassembled versions of exactly the same answer over and over again and he starts to appear either incapable of responding to facts or, worse, evasive and disingenuous.
The same goes for Rubio. His Obama line—“Let’s dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing”—is perhaps too clever, but it’s not awful. The problem came when he was unable to stray from the line, to either rephrase it or turn back Christie’s attacks with a novel response.