This clip started whizzing across social media last evening, then Erick Erickson highlighted it this morning as evidence that should drive a stake through the "Robot Rubio" narrative. The African-American voter who poses this question does so from the friendliest vantage point imaginable -- he's a supporter -- so it isn't exactly aggressive or edgy in the way the Iowa atheist's challenge was. But its premise is still a tough one: How can Rubio help persuade and reassure the many people of color in America who, like this man's pastor, do not believe the Republican Party cares about what happens to people like them? The Florida Senator's answer lasts nearly ten minutes, but it's worth your time:
"We are all truly in this together...if you have a significant percentage of the American family that feels as if they are being treated differently or left behind, that is an issue and we need to confront it."
An extraordinary response. Rubio begins by emphasizing that the 'hyphenated-America' mentality at play here does a disservice to the country, adding that bad public policies harm everyone, regardless of identity, race or party affiliation. But he doesn't use that familiar conservative theme as a means of bypassing the difficult reality that many racial minorities in this country feel an abiding sense of alienation, which drives many of them away from the GOP. Rubio acknowledges and affirms these feelings as legitimate, and tells several personal stories that illustrate how this isn't a theoretical problem to him. He makes a strong case for school choice as a civil rights issue ("the only people who do not have school choice [for their kids] are poor people") and closes with an elegant endorsement of criminal justice reform that speaks to several complex realities without sounding hostile to the police or weak on crime. Not only does this detailed, impactful answer contradict that Rubio is an empty talking points machine, as Ross Douthat points out, it also conveys Rubio's ability to speak the language (literally, in some cases) of voters beyond traditional conservative precincts:
As I've noted before, Rubio's great strength is that he has lived life around people who are not conservatives: https://t.co/UQNhmyXPBd— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) February 15, 2016
I've stated publicly that at this stage of the race, I'm an undecided GOP voter who is opposed to Donald Trump and more or less inclined toward either Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. I respect other candidates in the race very much, and have been disappointed to see other contenders fail to gain traction, especially Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. It's also no secret that I view Rubio with some worries and suspicions. His lack of executive experience isn't a mere non-issue. His devoted 'Gang of Eight' participation and subsequent spin raise concerns about his judgment and resolve -- not to mention that the legislation itself was fatally and unacceptably flawed. His uber-hawkish posture on US interventionism and heavy-handed approach to domestic surveillance are red flags in my book. On all of these fronts (except for the executive experience bit), Ted Cruz's record is more attractive to me. My hesitancy about Cruz is more linked to his political style and tactics, which can be off-putting to many people across the political spectrum. So while the Texan holds a slim but real advantage in my mind's "substance" column (which is not to say that Rubio is insubstantial), the Floridian has an edge on appeal and approach. And if we've learned anything over the last two presidential election cycles, the way candidates make people feel really matters.
That may be a frustrating commentary on the state of the electorate, but it's a reality nonetheless. I'd argue that dating back to at least 1980, the major party nominee who was most widely perceived as "likable" prevailed. The clip above showcases Rubio's undeniable strength on the 'style' front. Even if many conservatives harbor serious doubts about various elements of his record and worldview -- as I do -- interactions like this ought to factor into their voting calculus as well, especially as it pertains to the absolutely critical "electability" quotient. As it stands, Rubio seems to have the wind at his back in South Carolina, following a serious stumble in New Hampshire. He won the debate over the weekend, is drawing large and enthusiastic crowds, and has pulled even with Cruz for second place in a number of new polls. That may be good news for Team Marco, and worrying news for the Jeb and Cruz camps, but the bad news for all aforementioned parties is that Donald Trump remains a double-digit favorite to win the state, even after his Michael Mooreseque meltdown at the debate. In case you missed it in Katie's post, I'll leave you with Mark Levin's furious tirade against Trump's unhinged, factually false, far-left ranting against President Bush regarding Iraq and 9/11:
Also, Katie and I discussed Trump's Code Pink talking points during yesterday's episode of Outnumbered on Fox News. Even Trump defender Andrea Tanatros was at a loss over the billionaire celebrity's decision to go down that road:
UPDATE - No sooner did I complete this post that I discovered Allahpundit had already written it.