February 9, 2016


The Anxiety Of Being Marco Rubio : Rubio's flustered debate performance revealed something his close friends and allies have long known about him. "Marco, calm down." This story is partially adapted from my book, The Wilderness. (McKay Coppins, 2/09/16, Buzz Feed)

Millions of people watched Marco Rubio's televised tailspin in the opening minutes of last weekend's Republican presidential debate -- but what, exactly, they saw depended on the viewer.

To rivals, Rubio's reflexive retreat to the same snippet of well-rehearsed rhetoric -- over and over, and over, and over again -- was proof of the freshman senator's status as a lightweight. To supporters, the wobbly display was a forgivable fluke, one bad moment blown wildly out of proportion by a bloodthirsty press corps.

But to those who have known him longest, Rubio's flustered performance Saturday night fit perfectly with an all-too-familiar strain of his personality, one that his handlers and image-makers have labored for years to keep out of public view. Though generally seen as cool-headed and quick on his feet, Rubio is known to friends, allies, and advisers for a kind of incurable anxiousness -- and an occasional propensity to panic in moments of crisis, both real and imagined.

This jittery restlessness has manifested itself throughout Rubio's life, from high school football games in Miami to high-profile policy fights in Washington -- and in some ways, it's been the driving force in his rapid political rise.
When Rubio was nearing the end of his final term as Speaker of the Florida House in 2008, he invited a small circle of loyal donors, local activists, and friendly media figures to an intimate breakfast meeting at Miami's Biltmore Hotel to help him plot his next move. The consensus at the table was that he should wait for the right statewide race to open up -- attorney general, maybe, or even governor. But Rubio, feeling the familiar itch of the achievement junkie, was distressed by the prospect of patiently waiting around. The next race he could conceivably enter was for the Miami-Dade mayorship, and according to people familiar with the meeting, Rubio worked himself into a minor tizzy trying to convince his skeptical breakfast companions that he should run: What if his donors got poached while he was out of the spotlight? What if his supporters abandoned him? He could be finished in politics if he screwed this up!

As his voice betrayed a growing agitation, some at the table began exchanging sideways glances, perplexed by the spectacle and slightly embarrassed for Rubio. Finally, Ninoska Pérez Castellón, a popular local radio personality who frequently interviewed Rubio on air, felt it necessary to interject with some tough love.

"Marco!" she snapped. "You could be governor, or even in Congress! You don't want to burn yourself as mayor of Dade County." Slow down and stop worrying so much, she told him. "People aren't going to forget you."

As one of the breakfast attendees recalled of the scene, "He was just missing that sense of maturity you want."

Posted by at February 9, 2016 1:11 PM