Some people are self-motivated and self-disciplined, while others need a goad. Marco Rubio seems to be one of the latter.
While Ted Cruz spends his indefatigable days on the campaign trail, shuttling between Iowa, New Hampshire, and the southern states, and other candidates (notably Christie) camp out in the cold Granite State, Rubio has spent comparatively little time in either place.
Criticized for what’s been called a “nontraditional” schedule, questions arise about what Rubio is actually doing.
But in recent weeks, the story took a turn when observers started noticing that Rubio, in addition to ignoring his work in Congress, wasn’t making many trips to Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina, either, prompting questions about what, exactly, Rubio does all day.
Andrew Prokop checked in with members of Rubio’s team, who shed some light on the campaign’s belief that actual campaigning is overrated.
If we believe what Rubio’s advisers are saying, they aren’t using these tactics too much because they genuinely believe their effectiveness is overrated. They’re saying that they think ads and media coverage, not field or campaign events, are the keys to victory.
“More people in Iowa see Marco on ‘Fox and Friends’ than see Marco when he is in Iowa,” Rubio’s campaign manager, Terry Sullivan, told the New York Times.
It’s a surprisingly risky strategy.
It is, indeed, but Jeb Bush may change all that with his new emphasis on taking his old protégé down.
Instead of being content to sit back, film TV commercials and appear on news shows, counting on the media to make his case, Rubio will have to show up to personally persuade voters that he’s not what Bush’s Super PAC is painting him to be.
And who knows, maybe Rubio has uncovered a heretofore untested formula for success. Perhaps a focus on fundraising and conservative-media appearances can be a perfectly adequate substitute for a competent ground game and traditional, in-person campaigning.
Maybe, instead of town-hall meetings and grip-and-grin gatherings, Rubio spends his days focusing on debate prep, practicing his lines in front of a mirror, waiting for news organizations to gush over his unrivaled ability to recite canned soundbites.
No candidate ever has won an election by staying at home or going on TV, without putting in the time with voters. I’ve personally worked enough campaigns to know that the best way to lose is to save on shoe leather. Rubio has promised to spend more time in N.H., a state he MUST do well in (second place) to have a boost going into South Carolina.
But is it too little too late? The latest Monmouth poll has Rubio dropping behind Cruz and Kasich (Kasich!), although within the margin of error. There’s still plenty of room to jockey, with only a third of surveyed voters expressing a locked-in choice, although Trump is set to run away with the state.
The media is still being kind to Rubio: the Washington Post wrote that he’s “getting traction online,” a euphemism for “not there in person,” calling it a “concerted effort.” TIME wrote that he cancelled a fundraiser to “blunt no-show attacks.” But good press only goes so far.
To match Trump’s star power, Cruz’s dogged determination to personally convince every voter to support him, and not become lost in the noise, Rubio has to decide to show up and campaign in person. He may not like doing it (Rand Paul hates glad-handing too; look where it’s got him), but it’s part of the job, that is if he wants to win.
Perhaps having a boogieman to fight, as he did with Charlie Crist in 2010, will motivate the young senator to spend more time with voters, and less time mugging for the cameras. If it works, Rubio should thank his old mentor (again), for the assist.