“Marcobot”: Media Rail Against Marco Rubio After His “Disastrous” Debate Gaffe

Slate's Jamelle Bouie: Rubio's Gaffe Was “One Of The Most Uncomfortable Moments Of The Entire Republican Debate Season”

Media are calling Marco Rubio “robotic,” and criticizing his “disastrous Republican debate gaffe” after the presidential hopeful “awkwardly pivoted four times to a well-rehearsed line,” in an exchange with Gov. Chris Christie at the final Republican debate before New Hampshire voters cast ballots in the first primary of the election season.

ABC News Hosts Final GOP Debate Before New Hampshire Primary

USA Today: “Rubio Enters [Debate] With Momentum, Leaves Battered.” On February 6, ABC News hosted the last Republican debate before votes are cast in the New Hampshire presidential primary. USA Today highlighted an exchange between Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Marco Rubio as one of the "[t]op takeaways from the New Hampshire Republican debate." In the exchange, Christie criticized Rubio for repeating talking points:  

There were two dominant stories coming out of Iowa's GOP caucuses: Ted Cruz's come-from-behind win over Trump and the stronger-than-expected third-place finish of Rubio. He was the momentum candidate coming into tonight's debate, but will that change after an uneven performance defined by assertions from Christie that he was simply repeating talking points? Rubio has proved perhaps more adept than any Republican candidate at articulating a consistent message focused on foreign policy that hammers President Obama.

And he did it again tonight. And again. And again. Several times in a period of just a few minutes, Rubio repeated that Obama was not incompetent, but instead intentionally trying to roll back American exceptionalism. But what sometimes is characterized as staying on message came off Saturday night as a recitation of talking points, an interpretation that was pushed aggressively by Christie.

After Rubio criticized Christie's record in New Jersey, Christie shot back “That's what Washington, D.C., does. The drive-by shot at the beginning with incorrect and incomplete information and then the memorized 25-second speech that is exactly what his advisers gave him.” [USA Today2/7/16]

Media Call Out Rubio For Turning “Into 'Marcobot'” At Debate

The Guardian: “Marco Rubio Turns Into 'Marcobot' In Disastrous Republican Debate Gaffe.” In a February 7 article, The Guardian reported that Rubio “had a disaster” at the final GOP debate before the New Hampshire primary, adding that Rubio repeating himself “was a damning, jaw-dropping moment” that “Rubio never recovered” from:

Rubio had a disaster. His chief antagonist was New Jersey governor Chris Christie who seized the earliest opportunity to put the young senator through the mincer. Building on a theme that he had tried out at a packed rally earlier that day, Christie taunted Rubio as a callow ingenue who could do no more than regurgitate a “memorized 25-second speech”.

Rubio proceeded to make Christie's point for him. Instead of answering the question put to him, he repeated the soundbite he had just uttered - a riff about Barack Obama having a deliberate plan to transform America. Christie pointed this out to the watching audience, Rubio doing exactly as he had described, retreating to the comfort zone of a well-rehearsed stump speech. Rubio promptly repeated the soundbite again.

It was a damning, jaw-dropping moment. It looked like that sequence from the 1970s thriller the Stepford Wives, when a software glitch reveals that a human-like character is in fact a robot. “I thought we were friends,” the android says over and over again.

Rubio never recovered. A small comfort, of a sort, came later when a close-up showed the Florida senator sweating under the lights and under pressure. At least it showed he was human. Pretty soon, though, there was a video mash-up of those broken-record answers and a parody Twitter account: @rubioglitch. Social media branded him the “marcobot.” [The Guardian2/7/16]

Politico: “Rubio Chokes.” Declaring that Rubio “choke[d],” Politico labeled the Christie-Rubio back and forth during the debate as “a defining moment” of the night, where “Rubio awkwardly pivoted four times to a well-rehearsed line,” which ended up “as a viral glitch sensation”:

Marco Rubio knew exactly what he was doing on Saturday night.

Marco Rubio knew exactly what he was doing on Saturday night.

Marco Rubio knew exactly what he was doing on Saturday night.

The problem was he flubbed it.

Rubio awkwardly pivoted four times to a well-rehearsed line that President Barack Obama “knows exactly what he's doing” as he tried to drill home the idea that he's the inevitable general election candidate - an unforced error that his rivals pounced on and that quickly went viral.

“There it is. There it is. The memorized 25-second speech. There it is, everybody,” Chris Christie charged.

It was a defining moment as Rubio's opponents successfully turned two of his greatest strengths -- his eloquence and message discipline -- against him in the final debate before the New Hampshire primary, casting the Florida senator as a lightweight leader who has been lifted by little more than lofty and canned rhetoric. [Politico2/6/16]

Slate: “Rubio Didn't Just Embarrass Himself; He Undermined The Core Argument For His Campaign.” In a February 7 article titled “Marco Rubio Was A Disaster,” Slate's Jamelle Bouie compared Rubio's exchange with Christie to defining mistakes from past presidential candidates, describing it as “an awkward, brutal, cringeworthy display of political failure”:

Some politicians, unlucky ones, make mistakes that define their entire careers. For Dan Quayle in the 1988 presidential election, it was a brief comparison with John F. Kennedy. For Howard Dean in the 2004 Democratic primary, it was “the scream.” For Rick Perry in the 2012 Republican primary, it was “oops.” These weren't the worst mistakes ever made, but they were emblematic of each candidate's weakness--flubs that reinforced critiques from rivals and the media. Dean screamed just as pundits questioned his temperament for the White House, while Perry stuttered in the face of uncertainty about his intelligence.

Sen. Marco Rubio is a gifted politician and talented communicator. But he's faced a repeated attack in his six years on the national stage--that his smooth charisma conceals a man of little substance. That, on a fundamental level, he's not ready for the Oval Office. And on Saturday night, Rubio gave substance to the charge in a remarkable exchange with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at the eighth Republican presidential debate.


Rubio didn't just embarrass himself; he undermined the core argument for his campaign--that we overrate experience and underrate vision and resolve. And worse, it was on video: a short clip to show on news networks or cut into a negative advertisement. “Rubio's repeat” will have a long life on daytime cable and late night comedy, an awkward, brutal, cringeworthy display of political failure.

Rubio needed a win on Saturday. He needed to show Republicans that Iowa wasn't a fluke, that he could consolidate support and charge ahead of Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz. Instead, at best, he gave a mixed performance, with good answers overshadowed by one of the most uncomfortable moments of the entire Republican debate season. [Slate, 2/7/16]

Even Right-Wing Media Agreed That Rubio “Seemed Almost To Unravel” At The Debate

Fox's Chris Wallace: Marco Rubio “Seemed Almost To Unravel” In Debate. On the February 7 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace said that Christie's “takedown of Rubio ... was the story of the night” and that “Rubio seemed to almost unravel like a witness under cross examination”:

CHRIS WALLACE (HOST): Your takedown of Rubio, and that's all I can call it, was the story of the night.


So governor what do you think last night's debate revealed about Marco Rubio?

CHRIS CHRISTIE: Well first off I think it revealed something about what you need to be president of the United States. You've got to be tested, you've got to be prepared, you've got to be experienced, you've got to be ready and quiet frankly thats what I tried to show the folks that I am tested and prepared and ready and what I have been saying all week about Senator Rubio was on full display last night he just simply is not ready Chris. He is a good guy but he is not ready to be president of the United States.

WALLACE: You showed, and you have been a long time prosecutor, you showed how skilled you are at that as Rubio seemed almost to unravel like a witness under cross examination. [Fox Broadcasting Co., Fox News Sunday2/7/16]

National Review Online: “Rubio's Tough Night.” In a February 6 reaction to the Republican debate, Rich Lowry of National Review wrote that "[e]veryone knew that Christie was going to come after Rubio hard, and yet Rubio let himself get steamrolled" and “only validated Christie's attack on him by seeming so relentlessly scripted”:

Everyone knew that Christie was going to come after Rubio hard, and yet Rubio let himself get steamrolled. He either got rattled by the assault or thought he was sticking to his message by bringing it back to the point that Obama's intentions, not his lack of experience, accounts for the disasters of his administration. Of course, Rubio only validated Christie's attack on him by seeming so relentlessly scripted. The moment already has dominated the post-debate discussion and will continue to do so-the clips of Rubio saying the same thing is just irresistible to TV producers. What Rubio needed to do more than anything in that moment was show that he could stand up to Christie. There is obviously a risk to Rubio that the exchange will now change the narrative of his candidacy, and if he underperforms in New Hampshire and can't finish significantly higher than Kasich, Christie, and Bush, it will be an inflection point for his campaign. On the other hand, there's always the chance that the pundits will obsess on the moment more than voters (Rubio was strong the rest of the debate). [National Review Online, 2/6/16]

Washington Examiner: “Rubio Appeared Rattled And Repeated The Same Attack Line.” The Washington Examiner also highlighted Rubio's “robotic” performance, noting that “Rubio appeared rattled” when “Christie blasted [him] as a scripted Washington candidate”:

Pressed by Chris Christie and other governors on the stage to defend how his experience as a Florida senator prepared him for the presidency, Rubio appeared rattled and repeated the same attack line against President Barack Obama three times. Christie blasted Rubio as a scripted Washington candidate.


Rubio was also the subject of harshly critical viral videos and media headlines like “Marcobot malfunctions.” Detractors labeled Rubio robotic and contended his performance reinforced concerns about his relative youth and lack of managerial experience. [Washington Examiner2/6/16] 

New York Post's Podhoretz: “Rubio Found Himself Defaulting To The Exact Same Sound Bite Four Times Over - And I Mean Exact.” New York Post columnist John Podhoretz reacted to Rubio's exchange with Christie by declaring that “Rubio appeared to have been momentarily possessed by a demon who wanted him to prove Christie right”:

Just as the key story for the GOP presidential race in the past week has been the rise of Marco Rubio, so the key question arising from the GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire is: How seriously did the Florida senator hurt himself?

The most consistently excellent debater in the Republican field had a dreadful five minutes in the debate's opening portion. Under relentless attack from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who likened him to Barack Obama in 2008 as an inexperienced lightweight in over his head, Rubio found himself defaulting to the exact same sound bite four times over -- and I mean exact.

He said he wanted to dispel the “fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing.” Christie pushed back. And Rubio said: “This notion that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing is just not true. He knows exactly what he's doing.”

“There it is,” Christie said, “the memorized 25-second speech.”

In response, Rubio appeared to have been momentarily possessed by a demon who wanted him to prove Christie right, because he said it a third time: “We are not facing a president that doesn't know what he's doing. He knows what he is doing.”


[I]t was a performance failure -- Rubio's first real stumble in the debates. And it was a doozy. Christie owned him and with the energy and determination of a man making his last political stand, owned much of the debate proceedings. [New York Post2/7/16]