Newspaper article International New York Times

Christie Cuts Down Rubio at Debate ; New Jersey Governor Derides Senator's Oratory and Political Experience

Newspaper article International New York Times

Christie Cuts Down Rubio at Debate ; New Jersey Governor Derides Senator's Oratory and Political Experience

Article excerpt

Mr. Christie accomplished something that the rest of the Republican field had repeatedly tried but failed to do: whittle down and even embarrass Mr. Rubio.

In the Republican race for president, Senator Marco Rubio's soaring oratory, firm command of policy and steely unflappability are his sword, helmet and shield.

On Saturday night, Gov. Chris Christie seemed to rob Mr. Rubio of those armaments and turn them against him.

In the process, Mr. Christie accomplished something that the rest of the Republican field has repeatedly tried but failed to do so far: diminish and even embarrass Mr. Rubio, whose rapid rise in the polls, broad appeal and seeming imperviousness to attack have made impeding him his rivals' most urgent mission.

Mr. Christie, who as a presidential candidate has frequently suppressed his most pugilistic instincts, cast off any restraint and did what he does best: slice and slash.

He derisively called Mr. Rubio nothing more than a programmed deliverer of polished-sounding lines.

Seconds later, Mr. Rubio seemed to prove Mr. Christie right.

Mr. Rubio was already on the defensive. Pressed to prove that, despite his short time and lack of major accomplishment in the Senate, he had the experience and skills to be president, Mr. Rubio instead pivoted quickly to a well-rehearsed argument about President Obama's liberal agenda.

Mr. Obama, he reasoned, though also a one-term senator when elected president, had actually proved to be a deft engineer of a misguided liberal agenda. The implication: Ideology, not experience, is what matters most in the White House.

But Mr. Christie had instructed the audience to listen for what he dismissively called the "memorized 25-second speech," adding, with a twist of the knife, that it was "exactly what his advisers gave him."

When it was his turn to reply, Mr. Rubio -- inexplicably -- seemed to fulfill Mr. Christie's prediction, repeating the main idea of that same memorized-sounding speech about Mr. Obama. Almost word for word.

"This notion that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing is just not true," Mr. Rubio said. "He knows exactly what he's doing."

Mr. Christie pounced. "There it is," he said icily, turning to Mr. Rubio and jabbing his finger at him. "There it is, everybody."

Egged on by Mr. Christie's mocking interruptions, the crowd began to boo Mr. Rubio -- a new experience for a candidate who is running on a strategy of being likable and inoffensive to every group of Republicans, from the moderate mainstream to the most right-wing conservatives.

Throughout the evening, Mr. Christie's admonition about canned lines and rehearsed speeches hovered and seemed to recalibrate how the crowd -- and television viewers -- processed what Mr. Rubio said.

Mr. Rubio's team had rigorously prepared him for a showdown with Mr. …

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