Poor Marco Rubio
Regardless of who’s winning the election, the Democrats are winning the convention. There’s absolutely no way the Romney campaign and the GOP watched those speeches from Julian Castro, Michelle Obama, and Bill Clinton with anything but a grimace on their faces; Michelle Obama’s performance devastated Ann Romney’s, and Bill Clinton’s speech simply had no equal in the three days of the GOP convention. (Literally. His Republican counterpart wasn’t even mentioned, let alone on the bill.)
But nobody’s feeling the difference more than Marco Rubio. Rubio’s speech was the best of the GOP convention, though he was helped by the fact that the Republicans have a paucity of quality public speakers (and those who actually have charisma—it rhymes with “Ick Berry”—were set back to the minors for rehabilitation). But all the comparisons of Rubio’s speech to Obama’s 2004 convention address were overblown; I got the impression they were made a) because the GOP is desperate for an Obama of their own and Rubio’s the only man who applied, and b) we just don’t have many shared reference points for good public speaking anymore,* and the Reagan keg is tapped.
For all that, had the DNC never happened, Rubio’s speech would likely have been filed in the mainstream consciousness as the GOP’s version of Obama’s 2004 star-making, standard-setting performance. That was, of course, before Julian Castro brought down the house Tuesday night. Castro and Rubio have obvious similarities, but Castro not only conveyed all of the wistful, biography-based patriotism of Rubio’s speech, but strapped it to a rocket of rhetoric: call and responses, jokes, puns, chants—Castro’s speech matched all the qualities of Rubio’s and then tripled down on them. Can you imagine a conversation in the next few weeks in which someone says, “Hey, Rubio’s speech was pretty good, huh?” without five other people responding, “Yeah, but what about Julian Castro?!?!?” (It helps that Castro was celebrating Obama, whereas Rubio was the opening act for 45 minutes of “Hey, does your life suck a bag of dicks? Vote Romney!”)
Some of Rubio’s speech will survive the convention—his line about his father standing behind a bar so his son could stand behind a podium, for instance—and he did what he needed to do to enshrine his status as one of the preeminent leaders of the new generation of Republicans, which is more than enough to secure the next decade of his political life. But Rubio missed his chance to become a bipartisan reference point the way Obama did with his 2004 convention speech. And given the current state of the Republican Party, however happy Rubio was with his speech, he can’t be that thrilled that his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity served only to endear him to a party of vipers who want to deport people like him, while failing to cross over to the wider contingent of humanity that might one day be convinced to elect him president. (Julian Castro 2024!)
* Actually, Sarah Palin’s 2008 RNC address is a landmark public speech, but not one anybody wants to emulate any time soon.