At the center is Rubio himself, charming, articulate and calculating. He long ago recognized the power of personal narrative and stepping into the right moment. On immigration, he has reinvented himself as a reformer, backing away from the hardliner he was two years ago as a candidate moving to the right to meet a rising tea party.
In his speech after the State of the Union, he spoke of his Cuban immigrant parents and said the words “middle class” 16 times, part of an effort to show himself as a regular guy, the anti-Mitt Romney, even though the underlying big-government-is-bad theme struck many as old school Republicanism.
The image-building has been so well executed that it made Rubio’s awkward grab for water even more startling — an unscripted moment that showed him at once human and un-savior like.
Rubio deftly poked fun at himself, tweeting a picture of the Poland Spring bottle. But well before the gaffe, his press handlers ensured he would control the message the next morning, having booked a string of TV appearances, including Fox and Friends and Good Morning America. Rubio also went on CNN en Español, where, speaking fluent Spanish, he reached an audience mostly untapped by other politicians.
He finished the day on conservative radio. When host Mark Levin asked how Rubio could put up with “stupid interviewers” (meaning the mainstream media). Rubio made a sports analogy about a warm weather team having to play in cold areas and added: “You’ve got to play the game.”
The stated purpose of the Reclaim America PAC, which sustains much of Rubio’s political team, is to help elect other conservatives.
But of the $1.7 million spent through Dec. 31, only about $110,000 went to candidates, among the least generous of all PACs, according to an analysis conducted by the Center for Responsive Politics. About $98,000 of that was earmarked by donors, meaning Rubio’s PAC directed very little contributions itself.
Instead the PAC was used to pay Rubio’s political consultants, generate fundraising lists and mailers, conduct polling and travel.
Neither Rubio nor any of his Senate or political staffers would comment for this article. Sullivan emailed a statement: “Using his PAC’s resources and organization, Marco was able to attend over 100 political events for nearly two dozen Republican candidates last year. He headlined rallies and fundraisers in 21 states across the country raised several million dollars for Republicans. No other elected official not on the ballot did more to help elect Republicans in 2012.”
Harris and Thompson are partners in Something Else Strategies, a firm that earned $157,000 through the end of the year from the PAC. Sullivan collected more than $140,000, while also working on Rubio’s Senate staff. Martinez earned $75,000 from the PAC before recently replacing Sullivan as Rubio’s deputy chief of staff.
Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics said Rubio’s PAC spending reflects the “kittys” other top-name politicians set up to advance their careers. That would include then-Sen. Barack Obama, who gave more to candidates than Rubio but assembled a political team through his committee.
Rubio also spent hundreds of thousands on his fundraising effort, which includes direct mail nationwide. In one piece that landed last week, Rubio gives a strong clue of his next move, saying the 2012 election showed the GOP must not do a better job of explaining how its policies help Americans but “that it’s time new messengers came forward to carry the torch.”