Last Friday we travelled to Henniker, NH to attend a Rubio town hall. After two hours in the car, we pulled up to New England College’s Simon Center. Even though we arrived 45 minutes before the 12:15pm start time, the parking lot was full and only a few seats were empty. Rubio’s staffers, clad in their Marco Rubio windbreakers, were buzzing around the room with coffees and 5-hour ENERGY bottles in their hands.
Long before Rubio arrived at 12:25pm, the room had filled up. A group students from the local middle-school arrived and were directed to sit around the stage. After introductions from members of the college’s community and the pledge of allegiance, Rubio entered the room, donning a sweatshirt with his campaign logo over his tie and button-down shirt.
Before taking questions, Rubio opened with his standard stump speech. From the beginning he emphasized how he would be different from President Barack Obama. He criticized the president for undermining the Constitution. Unlike President Obama, Rubio said he would not be a president who apologizes for America. He went on to list the various threats that the United States has to deal with in the 21st century, including a “lunatic in North Korea” and an Iranian nuclear weapon. He then pivoted to discussing the problem with establishment politics. He called out leaders, particularly Hillary Clinton, for being out of touch with the American public.
Rubio returned to criticizing the current president’s legacy, saying he will repeal every single one of Obama’s “unconstitutional” executive orders. He then proposed a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and term limits on Congress and the judiciary.
Pivoting back to national security, Rubio focused on the threat of ISIS. Under a Rubio presidency, sanctuary cities would immediately lose federal funding. “When I’m president, we are going to have a real war on terrorism. Terrorists will be sent to Guantanamo and we are going to find out every thing you know.”
Rubio then moved from national security to veterans affairs, accidentally criticizing the federal employees who staff VA facilities – “people at the VA aren’t doing a good job.” He quickly backtracked and clarified that some people at the VA are good, but “bad” employees would be fired.
Rubio clarified that he thinks the United States is “not a weak country.” He just thinks that we just have a bad president. Instead of ending there, Rubio concluded with an odd criticism of Chris Christie, even though he doesn’t support negative campaigns. He pulled a paper out of his back pocket and read Christie’s statement in favor of Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor’s nomination. Before opening the floor up to questions he slammed Christie on his support for Common Core and gun control.
One of the students from the local middle school asked a question about Rubio’s stance on re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. The candidate said that he wants the American relationship with Cuba to improve because Cuba changes, not because the U.S. gives in. He cited the restoration of ties with Myanmar in 2012 as a good model to follow. The problem with Obama’s approach towards Cuba is that he changed U.S. policy, but did not ask the Cuban government to reciprocate.
In response to a question about PEPFAR, Rubio said he would increase funding for Bush’s program to relieve the HIV/AIDs epidemic in Africa. Also, in response to multiple questions on climate change, Rubio argued that “climate has always changed” and that the policies that are supposed to curb the effects of climate change seem to do nothing in terms of improving the environment. Instead, these policies would result in a huge job loss. However, Rubio did advocate for taking advantage of solar, wind, and hydroelectric energy. He was also asked how he would respond to the Pentagon’s decision that climate change is a national security threat. He said that the real threats are coming from terrorist groups and countries like North Korea, Iran, and Russia.
One of the more “human” moments of the town hall happened when a woman wearing a Patriots hat asked a question. Before she could get her point across, Rubio started making small talk about football. As a Dolphins fan, he jokingly asked the New England College audience, “when will Brady retire?” His well-documented love of football was apparent and the crowd loved it. The woman’s question was about how he would protect families who care for children with autism. Rubio responded with a story about a family friend with an autistic daughter and how he tried to change the way Florida dealt with this issue. He ended his answer by explaining where the government fit into the equation: “I’m a conservative, but I believe in the safety net because we cannot have free enterprise without a safety net.”
The last question came from another student who asked about Rubio’s plan to make higher education more affordable. Rubio argued that some of the best jobs today do not require a college degree (which completely contradicts Bernie Sanders’ go-to line that ” [a] college degree is the new high school diploma”). As an alternative to student loans, he proposed a student investment system, where students pay back their loans with a percentage of their income. Pivoting back to his campaign motto, “A New American Century,” Rubio concluded that the U.S. needs to teach its students employable skills in the 21st century, which apparently does not include Roman philosophy. Rubio then descended from the platform and the audience swarmed around him to take photos and get his signature.
Rubio’s stump and Q&A responses were filled with big applause lines. The press risers and desks were full and standing room was tight. The audience was energetic, racially diverse (for the third whitest state in the nation), and varied in age (probably because we were on a college campus). From the conversations we had with other people attending the event, some were undecided Republicans who liked Rubio and wanted to learn more. There were also some liberal individuals in attendance as well, particularly Sanders supporters.
Rubio connected well with the crowd and clearly appealed to more moderate strands of the party with his stump. Considering the fact that he had just debated on stage in South Carolina the night before and had a breakfast event in Derry, NH at 8:00am, Rubio was energetic, affable, and only slightly awkward (like that one time he forgot his daughter’s age). Looking forward to future events!
- Miles on the road: 226
- Selfies with the campaign bus:
- Yard signs:
- 1 Rand Paul
- 1 Carly Fiorina
- 1 Bernie Sanders
- 2 Donald Trump