Images by Chris Faraone
Joe Kenick of Exeter, New Hampshire swears he didn’t intend to stop at the Marco Rubio event at the historic Exeter Town Hall last night. He just happened to be driving by, and it looked like something interesting was breaking out, so he parked and swung inside to grill the Florida senator about the fact that Rubio enrolls his family in an Obamacare plan despite being a staunch opponent of the Affordable Care Act.
Kenick, a US Army Airborne veteran, seems like a tough guy. But even though I lost sight of him as the crowd steadily grew, I doubt that he was able to muscle in close enough to the candidate for an inquisition. Following a third-place win in Iowa on Monday that the media in large part touted as a major victory all things considered, Rubio appears to now have the elite caste luxury of playing to the larger venues, where detailed back-and-forth about “the issues” and past controversies take a back seat to conventional pep rally politics.
Rubio smiled and basked in the spotlight, even taking about 15 minutes after entering the hall to speak with major news outlets as members of the crowd quietly served as his backdrop. A few attempts to spark a rally cry to get the candidate’s attention were extinguished swiftly by campaign aides, leaving all to wait until the candidate wrapped up his interviews, walked back outside, then re-entered for a maximum dramatic effect as AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” roared in the background.
With a preacher’s charm and comedian’s wit, Rubio effortlessly showed why he is able to attract a wide swath of Republicans. He’s calm, but not aloof and odd like Ben Carson; he talks Christianity, but minus all the swarmy ooze of Ted Cruz. One woman, no way in hell a plant, screamed out, “We love you Marco.” Everything the GOP hopeful dropped went platinum—even a totally strange story about how his mother and father would drive him past Liberace’s house in Las Vegas and tell young Marco he could live there one day if he worked hard enough.
Just when it felt like the candidate-on-constituent camaraderie couldn’t get any steamier, the loudest rejoices of all came during sporadic fits of cold Obama-bashing pushing toward the encore. At one point, the crowd rose to hysterics after Rubio alleged the President was faking when he swore to protect the Constitution. According to the candidate, national defense is the main reason we have a government in the first place, and we ought to spend a lot more money on airplanes and weapons. His fans agreed.
Kenick, the US Army vet I met at the beginning, informed me that Abraham Lincoln once spoke at the Exeter Town Hall. It was back in 1860, just months before he became president, when Lincoln was visiting his son Robert at Phillips Exeter Academy. There’s no official record of his speech, but newspaper reports from the time show that the future POTUS, remarking on the expansion of slavery, said that “a House divided against itself cannot stand.”
I thought long and longer on my drive home about an appropriate analogy that links Rubio and Lincoln, then and now, and that draws a line between the context of their speeches. Nothing came to mind, but if the energy in Exeter reflects the metastasizing popularity of the handsome young Florida senator, then at the very least there is a strong chance we were watching a Republican speak who, like Abe more than a century before him, will go on to graduate from that stage to the White House in a matter of months.