Of the plethora of plays being run in presidential debates, it's hard to ignore the game and gamesmanship now surrounding Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) -- not only the plays he's run himself but the counterstrategies that have ensnared him. Here's a quick dissection for the uninitiated:
Hoping last night to consolidate his Iowa gains and keep foes at bay, Rubio went suddenly off-script with this atypical take on Barack Obama: "And let's dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing," Rubio hissed.
The senator might have echoed Donald Trump's derisions of Obama stupidity, but Rubio was sounding a new alarm by presenting the president as an enemy of the state, or at least the GOP. Not simply a bumbler-in-chief. By way of the counter-intuitive bear hug, he credited Obama for his intelligence, but then, having set the jarring premise, employed two additional plays -- the recast and ping - to suggest that Obama's motives are un-American, even sinister. "Barack Obama is undertaking a systematic effort to change this country," Rubio drummed, citing Obamacare, the stimulus, Dodd-Frank reform, and the Iran nuclear deal.
Of course, the plays backfired. Not for praising a democratic president, but for these reasons:
-- Rubio ran the line far too many times, giving New Jersey Governor Chris Christie the opportunity to mock him as an auto-repeating robot. Indeed, the label, Marco Roboto, was immediately memed.
-- His bear hug of Obama was taken as a dodge of his fragile senate record. Pressed by moderators, Jeb Bush and again Christi, Rubio pivoted to his theory of a conniving and dangerous POTUS. No dice. He was quickly called out, not only for his redundancy and rehearsed rhetoric but for an obvious side-step of a glaring short-coming.
The bear hug is one of five freezing plays, dead-center in The Standard Table of Influence. It's designed to stop some aspect of what we call play action, in this case a trio of rival republican governors looking to expose a vulnerable candidate. Bear hugs are risky because they flatter what is typically a foe. But when followed with a recast, this play of overt embrace gives huggers the chance to briefly revise or subtly revile the targeted player's position.
Marco Rubio's bear hug might have worked if presented as a purely offensive push and not in response to rhetorical fire. But the youthful Rubio never had the ball, per se, and what he figured would be a clever stab at a new narrative was a license to cripple, maybe kill, his candidacy.
Graphic courtesy of Playmaker Systems, LLC, with content from Chris Christie's Facebook.