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Swing and a Miss: The Rubio Credit Card 'Scandal' That Wasn't

Before you read on, click through and check out Matt's post from Friday on this general subject, which reviews the Washington Post fact-checker's conclusion that Rubio deserves 
zero Pinocchios for his explanations of the credit card controversy critics have raised since his 2010 Senate run.  Rubio told the truth, the paper concluded, rendering the verdict that his "credit card saga isn't really a scandal."  Not a bad headline for a campaign that has sustained heavy incoming fire from Democratsthe media and Republican rivals alike in recent weeks, suggesting that interested parties view the Rubio surge as real and threatening.  (For additional evidence on this point, look no further than Chuck Schumer's latest machinations; they're not subtle).  But there was still a missing piece to the credit card puzzle, detractors said, pointing to two years' of unpublished spending records from the time period in question.  Pressed on this point, Rubio vowed his campaign would release the remaining documents in a matter of weeks.  On Saturday, Politico's Marc Caputo obtained the details and broke the story.  No 'there' there:

Marco Rubio must have something to hide. There was a reason the presidential candidate wasn’t letting people see his long-secret Republican Party of Florida American Express bills. He spent too lavishly and frivolously, and used his party card for personal business. It was, Donald Trump said, a political “disaster” waiting to happen. That was the conventional wisdom and hype in Florida political circles for years. On Saturday, Rubio released his 2005 and 2006 statements that showed he only spent $65,000 on party business. That’s far less than other Republican leaders who succeeded him in the Florida House. And it’s just about half of the $117,000 Rubio himself charged on his party credit card after he became Florida House speaker in 2007-08. The release shows he did make eight personal purchases on the card – a practice for which he has been criticized by rivals -- but his campaign insisted that he reimbursed American Express $7,200 for them. “Some of these charges are from more than 10 years ago, and the only people who ask about them today are the media and our political opponents,” Rubio spokesman Todd Harris said. “We are releasing them now because Marco has nothing to hide.” ...

Rubio’s staffers have spent months preparing for this day. They’ve analyzed his old bills and offer documentation, where still available, to indicate that he personally paid expenses like the $600 on auto repairs at Braman Honda or the $43.07 at Tio Liquor in Miami
, which was accepted as a legitimate campaign expense by party leaders, according to state campaign-finance reports...“He is a disaster with his credit cards,” Trump said in a speech this week. “For years, I’ve been hearing his credit card are a disaster.” The Democratic National Committee followed up with a Medium post that asked “What is Marco Rubio hiding?” And the campaign of Rubio rival and longtime friend Jeb Bush recently gave a presentation to donors in which it called the senator “a risky bet” and accused him of, among other transgressions, “misuse of state party credit cards.”

What Rubio was "hiding" were records proving that he spent far less than expected on a charge card used for joint expenses -- which was issued under his name and secured on his personal credit -- than other party leaders at the time.  In other words, a non-scandal just got even less salacious.  Here's New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin yawning on CNN that, "if this is all they have to use against Rubio, then they're going to have to keep looking:"

What may be most interesting about the weekend's revelation is the campaign's strategic timing.  Over the process of their internal audit, Team Marco recognized the vindicating nature of the yet-unpublished records. Rather than rushing them out immediately, they decided to lay a trap for Rubio's opponents, holding the exculpatory evidence close to the vest as critics ramped up their attacks and innuendo.  With Trump, Jeb and the DNC loudly demanding to see the "risky" or "disastrous" documents he was "hiding," Rubio finally let the evidence drop with a reverberating thud.  Caputo described this political chess move on Meet the Press Sunday morning:

Caputo: What they did is, they made the calculation, "we're going to hold off on this until the appropriate time, and we're going to let the Donald Trumps of the world say 'this is going to be a disaster...'"

Todd: It was a set-up!

Caputo: I think it was a trap, yes...when you look at the hype that built it up, and then you look at the expenses, you really have to go out of your way to make it look like a scandal.

Well played.  I'll leave you with two tweets.  The first is from Florida GOP consultant Rick Wilson, who points out that the (beaten to death) credit card attack is a direct regurgitation from Charlie Crist's failed Senate campaign in 2010, except now there's even more available data bolstering Rubio's version of events.  The second reminds us that another young presidential candidate once struggled to pay some bills in his early adulthood -- a revelation that, er, totally killed his political aspirations:

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