Marco Rubio held a Super Bowl watching event on Sunday night. He’s a huge football fan, even married a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader. He must have sympathized with Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who was brutalized by the Denver Broncos in the pocket all night long, much like Rubio in his “bubble” the night before.
Chris Christie, who is as nuanced as a linebacker, had actually been battering Rubio for days. Ever since Marco came out of Iowa smelling like an establishment rose, Christie has been heaping the stink on him, targeting his youthful cuteness and the way he clings tightly to his carefully crafted script like it’s a security blanket.
On the cuteness point, let’s face it, Marco looks like a lot of local news anchormen, although I hasten to point out that the ABC anchors at the debate did a terrific job.
How’s that for a double digression? In case you don’t remember, the discussion involved Christie (who definitely doesn’t look like an anchorman) ridiculing Rubio as a “boy in the bubble.” Unfortunately for Rubio, he came across as a bubblehead on debate night by referring not once, not twice, but four times to the same talking points, apparently to deflect the oft-repeated criticism that he’s so inexperienced he’s little more than “another Barack Obama.” In Republican circles that may be the most horrible insult, unless, perhaps, you call someone “a Muslim immigrant abortionist.”
Another digression. Rubio and his handlers had crafted a strange response: “Obama knows exactly what he’s doing.” They seemed to mean that Satan — excuse me, President Barack Obama — at his tender age had managed to inflict plenty of damage on the United States. Rubio considered it a killer response, and maybe it would have been once, but when His Cuteness kept saying it verbatim throughout the evening, people snickered, even booed. Chris Christie drove a truck through the opening, calling it “the 25-second memorized speech that is exactly what his advisers gave him.”
Rubio was rattled. And no wonder: He had a Dan Quayle moment. For those not past puberty, Dan Quayle was the vice president and then presidential candidate who popularized the expression “deer in the headlights look.” Quayle famously had his face rubbed in it during a debate.
Let’s thank Marco and Chris for performing one huge public service. Because of them, there was little attention paid to Donald Trump. Oh, he showed up this time, but except for a little testiness with Jeb Bush over the issue of eminent domain — a heart-pounding topic if there was one — he was pretty much in the background. Ben Carson barely showed up, literally, apart from when he got in a few more licks against Ted Cruz. Cruz is doing his best to wriggle out of the accusation that he might not have won in Iowa had his campaign not spread the false rumor that Carson was pulling out.
The difficulty Cruz has is not just that he is so blatantly ambitious he’d be willing to roll over anything or anyone to achieve his personal goals — that’s true for most politicians, certainly those running for president; his problem is that he can’t hide his ruthlessness like most of the others can. It would help explain why so many who have crossed paths with him say that to know him is to dislike him.
He was there in the mix of candidates trying to outcruel each other when it came to waterboarding and even more extreme methods to be used when interrogating enemy prisoners. They’re obviously no stranger to torture, as evidenced by what their campaigns are inflicting on the American people.
Let’s also torture the sport metaphors one last time: The Super Bowl spectacle is done for the year. Unfortunately, the political games and all of their hype have a long way to go.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.