With ACDC’s “Thunderstruck” blaring from speakers, Oklahoma’s governor and senior U.S. senator took to the Chevy Bricktown Events Center stage Friday afternoon to stump for Marco Rubio, the Republican Party establishment’s now-clear choice in the 2016 presidential primary and, oddly, a self-proclaimed underdog.
Until Thursday night’s rancorous GOP debate, Rubio had been somewhat tame in approach and response to attacks from real estate mogul Donald Trump’s insurgent campaign, which has thrived by pulling no punches and finding a common thread with the frustrated American voter.
In Oklahoma City on Friday, both candidates appeared in front of large crowds ahead of Super Tuesday’s potentially game-changing or game-ending primary election day.
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For Trump, Friday night’s campaign rally was his third in the Sooner State, and this one featured one-time challenger and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who endorsed The Donald earlier in the day, to the surprise of many.
About four hours earlier, however, Rubio appeared with Gov. Mary Fallin and U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe. His event offered red meat to traditional Republican voters, but it also continued an aggressive attack on Trump that Rubio had ramped up the night before in the most recent GOP debate.
Trailing the New York businessman in nearly every poll, Rubio even has his website landing page now emphasizing the phrase, “Stop Donald Trump. Join Marco’s Team!”
Attack attack attack
Rubio stayed on offense Friday by attacking Trump’s positions — or lack thereof — while also spotlighting what he said were Obama administration’s failures over the past eight years.
After months of hearing Oklahoma voters (or complainers who don’t vote) talk about how great it was that Trump was just being honest, I took notice of the more direct approach Rubio used with his rally speech in Oklahoma City.
While Trump became a modern celebrity by coining the term, “You’re Fired!” on his popular show, The Apprentice, Rubio “fired” off some of his own messages Friday, including several targeting Trump’s record on the key GOP issues.
Rubio’s attempted Trump zingers included:
- Trump hypocrisy on illegal immigration — “The Trump Tower was built by illegal immigrants from Poland who he paid $4-an-hour.”
- Trump’s claim that he is a tough guy — “This is the first guy that asked for Secret Service protection … This guy was born into money, raised into money and inherited $200 million.”
- Trump’s inexperience with national security issues — “He thinks the nuclear triad is some punk rock band from Europe.”
- Trump’s tweets that included misspellings of the words “choked, honor and lightweight” — “Either that’s how they spell ‘choker’ at the Wharton School of Business, or he must have hired foreign workers to [handle] his Twitter.”
- Trump’s attempts to show empathy for workers — “He has spent a career in business — 50 years — sticking it to the little guy.”
While it remains to be seen whether stump-speech quips and TV attack ads can chip away at Trump’s growing GOP base, the anti-Trump rhetoric struck a chord with the gathered Rubio fans Friday.
Kathy Roach of Oklahoma City said national security is the key reason she supports Rubio and a key reason she opposes Trump.
“There are no answers from him,” Roach said of the real estate mogul who has won the past three primary elections after finishing second in Iowa.
Neckties and kitchen sinks
Rubio’s verbal assault highlights just how little time is left for establishment GOP forces to stop The Donald. Friday, Rubio was quick to criticize Trump for making clothing outside the U.S.
“You’re buying a tie made in China or Mexico,” he said to a crowd full of men who likely buy a lot of ties made in China or Mexico.
Rubio also accused Trump of historically making sure he was paid for real estate business rather than the subcontractors who did the actual work.
“He got his money — they didn’t get theirs,” charged Rubio, who himself has been dogged by his improper use of Florida GOP credit cards.
The prior night’s Republican debate opened a door that Rubio was more than eager to go through, as he insisted he would continue to shine the light on what Trump truly represented.
“I will never stop until we keep a con man from taking over the party of Reagan and the party of conservatives,” Rubio said. “People are angry and frustrated and scared about the future. People are working harder than they have ever worked in their lives, and they’re running in place. And he swoops in and is taking advantage of that.”
The military, veterans and red meat
Rubio didn’t just fire off at Trump. He talked about concerns with President Barack Obama’s national security policies, focusing on aggression shown by leaders in North Korea, China and Russia. He also discussed ISIS, asserting that Obama was making cuts to the nation’s military at a time when the world was in constant conflict.
“The world is getting more dangerous, and we are gutting our military,” Rubio said.
The Florida senator’s stump speech also offered the requisite red meat for Oklahoma Republicans — protecting religious liberties for Christians, the unlimited use of guns and the transition of federal power to state and local communities. Rubio said he would be a strong supporter of the U.S. Constitution, and he vowed to get rid of “unconstitutional” executive orders from the Obama administration.
Rubio also noted veterans issues as something that of particularly of importance to him. He said his brother had been a Green Beret in the Army and was continuously running into problems with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Rubio brought up recent reports on how some calls to the VA’s suicide hotline had gone unanswered.
“How can someone not get fired over that?” Rubio asked. “When I am President, when you’re not doing a good job at the VA, you’re going to get fired.”
‘He gets it’
State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones said he believed Rubio would take veterans’ issues seriously and that it wasn’t just rhetoric.
“I think he will truly want to do something about it,” Jones said.
Agreeing with Jones was state Sen. David Holt, (R-OKC) who is Rubio’s campaign chairman for Oklahoma. Holt said voters should see a discernible difference in what veterans could expect under a Rubio administration as opposed to the platforms of Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
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“He gets it and understands the role of the VA,” Holt said. “It’s not even a comparison. If you’re a veteran, you need to be voting for Marco Rubio.”
To a crowd filled with young Republicans and a small mix of middle-aged Oklahomans, Rubio claimed to be the strongest candidate when it came to student loan debt, something Democratic primary participant Bernie Sanders railed against in Tulsa two days earlier. Rubio said Trump couldn’t understand the concerns many Americans had when it came to the growing debt that can come with attending college.
“I didn’t inherit $200 million — I didn’t start out with a small loan of $1 million,” Rubio said. “In fact, the only loan I ever started out with was a student loan that I just paid off four years ago. I’ve never met her, but I’ve paid Sallie Mae a lot of money.”
On ‘socialist’ Sanders and ‘disqualified’ Clinton
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After rattling off his Trump and Obama criticisms, Rubio took his obligatory shots at Sanders and Hillary Clinton, calling Sanders a socialist and Clinton someone who was under investigation from the FBI due to the alleged Benghazi embassy cover-up.
Rubio said Clinton should be “disqualified” to serve as president.
“Anyone who lies to the families of those who lost their lives in the service of our country can never be the commander of chief,” Rubio said.
Inhofe touts problematic polls
In addition to Gov. Fallin and Sen. Inhofe, Rubio received support from other Oklahoma GOP elected officials, including state Sen. A.J. Griffin( R-Guthrie), state Rep. Paul Wesselhoft (R-Moore), Sen. Holt and Jones.
Fallin also attended Trump’s speech Friday.
At Rubio’s event, Inhofe spoke briefly and said five February polls showed the freshman senator was the sole Republican candidate who could defeat Clinton in the general election, and he stressed the importance of getting the right candidate out of the primary.
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But polls released the same day as Rubio’s OKC appearance show Trump faring better in a hypothetical matchup with Clinton than Rubio. In Florida, a PPP poll showed Clinton besting Rubio by 2 percent while Trump would lead Clinton by the same margin.
Four polls in 2016 have shown Trump with a nearly 20-point lead over Rubio in the senator’s home-state primary.
Still, Rubio contends he is the only choice for anyone who wants a Republican in the White House.
“We will lose this election if Donald Trump is the nominee,” Rubio said. “They are waiting for him to be the nominee, and then they will tear him apart.”
Holt said “Marcomentum” was sweeping the state and that it was important for Oklahoma voters to send a strong message by supporting a candidate that would best represent them as U.S. president. He pointed to recent polling that showed Rubio moving up in Oklahoma.
“We’ve got a really good shot,” Holt said. “We’re optimistic, and we’re invested in the state.”
The packed crowd reflected the same optimism. Patrick Gaines, an influential Oklahoma lobbyist who was featured on the stage behind Rubio, said he liked what Rubio represented and felt he would do the best job at working with others.
“I like his demeanor and how he comes off,” Gaines said. “Rubio would do a great job at bringing people together.”
With a pro-Rubio crowd focusing its energies against the triumvirate of “The Donald,” Hillary and Obama, one message seemed to resonate among all others as Rubio encouraged people to spread the word.
“Friends don’t let other friends vote for a con artist,” Rubio emphasized.