Marco Rubio’s new ad reminds Iowans that he’s a Christian…and that’s about it

Marco Rubio is set to air a new ad in Iowa this weekend in which he, like a sixteen year-old missionary preaching on a street corner for the first time, recites what it means to be a Christian:

That’s it. That’s the whole ad. No vision for the country. No policy agenda. He didn’t even suggest that the LGBT community is destroying America this time.

Just “I’m Marco Rubio, and I’m a Christian like you”:

Our goal is eternity, the ability to live alongside our Creator and for all time, to accept the free gift of salvation offered to us by Jesus Christ. The struggle on a daily basis as a Christian is to remind ourselves of this. The purpose of our life is to cooperate with God’s plan, to those who much has been given much is expected and we will be asked to account for that. Were your treasures stored up on earth or in Heaven and to me I try to allow that to influence me in everything that I do.

Running in a Republican primary, and hoping to do well enough in Iowa to emerge as the establishment’s alternative to Trump and Cruz — a title that Chris Christie has recently been making moves toward — it’s somewhat inevitable that Rubio has to try and out-Jesus all of his opponents. And given his religious background, having roots in the Mormon, Catholic and Protestant communities, it wasn’t exactly implausible that he would be able to do so with some degree of success. He may always be the Sunday school student to Ted Cruz’s pastor, but that may help him do well enough with conservative Christians to keep him afloat while he consolidates establishment support.

At least, that’s the game plan.

Marco Rubio, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Marco Rubio, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

But I think it’s worth stepping back and considering just how strange it is that a candidate with a real chance at winning a major party’s nomination for President of the United States is running an ad like this. Or, rather, how strange it would be for a Democratic candidate to run an ad like this. Because for all of the GOP’s lamentations over liberals’ and Democrats’ “identity politics,” it’s hard to imagine any Democratic candidate thinking of or getting away with running an ad that’s nothing more than pure identity signaling.

Imagine if Hillary Clinton ran a 30 second spot that was nothing more than a few sentences of her thoughts on being a grandmother. Or if Barack Obama had, caving to conservative demands that he “prove” his Christianity, run an ad with the same script as Rubio’s above? With nothing to tie those experiences and identities back to anything resembling a political worldview or governing agenda. It would have been really, really weird, right?

And heaven help Obama if he had run an ad about what it meant to grow up as a person of color in the United States.

Of course, candidates like Rubio run ads like these because they work. There’s a significant chunk of Republican voters in Iowa (and throughout the country, for that matter) who care very deeply that their candidate of choice performs a particular brand of Christianity. They aren’t as concerned with whether Rubio’s tax plan is regressive so long as they trust that he had Jesus on his mind when his team put the plan together.

But if you asked them, I’m sure they’d tell you how important it is to them that candidates run “substantive” campaigns that talk about “the issues.”

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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