T.A. Frank drove himself over to the Reagan Presidential Library to watch Marco Rubio give the second in a series of setpiece speeches. (The first was on the floor of the Senate, about debt; the next will be at the Jesse Helms Center.) Fish, barrel, gun.
When I drove up the hill to the Reagan Library, the cars parked along the side of the road stretched back nearly a mile. Inside, a sold-out crowd of about 700, by my rough count, had gathered. “I think people are just searching for somebody,” a middle-aged audience member named Nancy Most told me. She was a Rick Perry supporter from the nearby town of Thousand Oaks. “Someone who is young, articulate, good-looking—[with a laugh] from a woman’s standpoint—who loves his country.”
A success! These, as far as I can tell, are the goals of the Rubio tour.
1) Buttered-up profile pieces. Easily done. The Reagan speech got Rubio a McClatchy story about how Nancy Reagan personally beckoned him to Simi Valley. “You’ve been identified as someone to watch on the national political scene,” she said, giving future Rubio-profile-writers an insta-quote for the beginning of the what-people-are-saying section. From McClatchy, we also learn that John Boehner quoted Rubio, and that this is significant.
2) Scene pieces. See the Frank story for that. Most of the early coverage of Rubio’s speech informed us that 1) he gave a speech, 2) the crowd was huge, and 3) he helped up Nancy Reagan when she stumbled.
3) Micro policy news. In the debt speech, Rubio, who had not taken a lead role in the debt limit debate, staked his position: There could be no putting off the “day of reckoning.” In Simi Valley, he came out for a gradual Social Security phase-out.
Barack Obama did the same thing – the exact same thing! – in 2005 and 2006, when he was a freshman senator who was constantly asked whether he’d run for president. He didn’t take the lead in the “There Is No Crisis” fight to beat Social Security privatization, but he gave setpiece speeches about it, most notably at Knox College. But Obama was more subtle; his media team (led by Robert Gibbs at the time) kept most of his setpieces in Illinois. Rubio has no shortage of places in Florida to do this stuff. And yet he goes to California, and North Carolina. Of course reporters have to waste their time asking Rubio if he’s gunning for national office, and writing down his humble “no,” but this is a friendly exchange of total bullshit.