At some point, the most obvious explanation is rope-a-dope.
Over the past three weeks, critics of Marco Rubio – his political rivals and some in the media – have worked themselves into something of a frenzy over Rubio’s use of a Republican party credit card nearly a decade ago. Without any new information, the story came to dominate coverage of Rubio’s presidential campaign, perhaps not coincidentally as he’s risen in the polls.
At the CBNC debate in late October, Rubio was asked about his “issues” with the credit card. Days later, an internal strategy document from Jeb Bush’s campaign, leaked to the media, suggested Rubio is a “risky bet” in part because of his alleged “misuse of state party credit cards” and “taxpayer funds.” A Tampa Bay Times headline blared that Rubio “spent lavishly” on the state party credit card. The Democratic National Committee released a statement asking, “What is Marco Rubio Hiding,” and Donald Trump used the occasion to call Rubio a “disaster” before castigating him for what he “did when he was running the party apparatus with credit cards.”
So, what’s the issue? Rubio used a Florida GOP credit card before and during his time as speaker of the Florida house and sometimes co-mingled personal and official political charges. The details of the story were first reported and addressed during Rubio’s run for the Senate in 2010. Rubio insisted then, as he does now, that he quickly paid off his personal charges. And he says that while the practices may have been unwise, given the questions he’s faced about them, he did nothing improper. No taxpayer money was involved. The Washington Post fact-checker recently examined the claims and counter-claims, concluding that Rubio’s explanation checked out and declaring, “a mountain’s been made of a molehill, by the media and Rubio’s opponents.”
While most of the new attention to the old issue comes because Rubio’s opponents are eager to make it a liability, the ostensible news peg was that Rubio had not yet disclosed the details of the first two years of his charges. Rubio’s opponents whispered to reporters that the missing statements from 2005 and 2006 might have been withheld because they contain damaging information.
It’s now clear that they do not. THE WEEKLY STANDARD reviewed copies of those statements over the weekend. And contrary to much of the speculation, Rubio’s spending in the first two years of his use of the Florida GOP credit card was lower than it had been during the final two years – the period that had been previously disclosed. Marc Caputo, veteran Florida reporter for Politico, who has reported on the credit card story for years, broke the story about the new disclosures in a story posted over the weekend.
On Saturday, Rubio released his 2005 and 2006 statements that showed he only spent $65,000 on party business. That’s far less than other Republican leaders who succeeded him in the Florida House. And it’s just about half of the $117,000 Rubio himself charged on his party credit card after he became Florida House speaker in 2007-08.
Caputo makes clear that Rubio’s record-keeping was sloppy, something Rubio has acknowledged. But absent a major new development, suggestions of a “scandal” emerging from Rubio’s “lavish” credit card practices appear greatly exaggerated and those making such hyperbolic claims, including GOP rivals and journalists, look foolish.
The Bush campaign, still hyping the credit card issue in conversation over the weekend, is left with little more than eroded credibility. In fact, among the most vigorous defenders of Rubio on credit cards have been Bush supporters.
A former Rubio staffer whose endorsement the Bush team was touting last week came to Rubio’s defense on the credit card matter. Richard Corcoran, a former chief of staff to Rubio who is backing Bush’s presidential bid, dismissed the complaints. Corcoran, who charged items to party cards himself, told the Washington Post: “These are decade-old credit card statements that have been audited extensively by independent outside auditors and found to be fine.”