Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) response to the president suggesting China “should start an investigation into the Bidens” is largely a Beltway story, but it’s worth dwelling on briefly for broader reasons. In correctly questioning whether the remark constituted “a real request,” Rubio disrupted the day-plus punditry cycle with an obvious point.
To be crystal clear, Trump’s statement was categorically stupid and indefensible. But Rubio, hardly a friend to China, added a critical observation that seemed to be lost entirely on the breathless pundit class.
“I don’t know if that’s a real request or him just needling the press, knowing that you guys are going to get outraged by it. He’s pretty good at getting everybody fired up, and he’s been doing that for a while, and the media responded right on task,” the senator said Friday.
Pressed further, Rubio continued, “I don’t think it’s a real request. Again, I think he did it to get you guys. I think he did it to provoke you to ask me and others and get outraged by it. He plays it like a violin, and everybody falls right into it. That’s not a real request.”
This morning in the Florida Keys, @marcorubio was asked about the President calling on China to investigate @JoeBiden – see his answer 👇@CBSMiami @MiamiHerald @alextdaugherty @MarcACaputo @PatriciaMazzei pic.twitter.com/3t1nTMWixn
— Jim DeFede (@DeFede) October 4, 2019
Whether or not Trump’s remark was indeed intended deliberately to “provoke” the press, Rubio had room to also affirm the rhetoric is unacceptable. That said, if even you believe the senator’s reaction was a dodge (I do not), it still doesn’t undermine the validity of his point.
That gets to the broader relevance of Rubio’s remarks, which were largely dismissed and denounced by the insular blue-check brigade. Nearly three years after his election, the press still struggles daily with responding to Trump, knowing full well that much of what he says—and tweets—is purposefully designed to manipulate the media.
Two things can be true: A Trump line can be both out of bounds and an unserious diversion meant to stir media outrage. Media reaction to such lines can be critical while also acknowledging there’s a high possibility the president is unserious. But that’s not where the incentives are in anti-Trump newsrooms.
I fully agree there could, of course, plausibly be serious implications to Trump flippantly suggesting the Chinese government investigate a political opponent. But the media will better serve its consumers by at least acknowledging the president may be more interested in manipulating the press than prompting action from China, even if it deflates some of the ratings-friendly hysteria. It’s more nuanced than pure condemnation, but it’s also much more helpful to the audience.
In short, Trump was wrong, Rubio could have been clearer about that, but he’s right to question the president’s motives—and the press should act accordingly.