While Marco Rubio's current showing in the polls -- third place, with an 8.3 percent poll average, HuffPost Pollster finds -- doesn't exactly set the world on fire, the fact that he has managed to hold serve over the long Summer of Donald Trump (and the early Autumn of Ben Carson) has given rise to a certain celebratory conventional wisdom on the Florida senator: He's the most viable "insider" in the field, and the better of the two Florida pols in the GOP race. As Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina flounder, and as Rand Paul and Chris Christie fall, Marco's relative stability has brought a new round of pundit investment.
But while media plaudits are all well and good, the problem is that Rubio hasn't been earning the sort of investment that matters -- you know, the green stuff that goes in a wallet. He's coming off a third-quarter fundraising haul that has been pretty anemic, compared to the recent spike in Rubio hype. Under those circumstances, it's not surprising that Rubio has recently redoubled his efforts to win the favor of a billionaire campaign sugar daddy to ease those burdens and provide a little more money to burn as the campaign season bends toward Iowa and New Hampshire.
How badly is Rubio lagging his rivals for campaign cash? Well, The Washington Post's Sean Sullivan and Anu Narayanswamy report this week that his third-quarter boodle-bundle "was less than half of the totals put up by Bush, [Ted] Cruz, and Carson," despite the fact that he's burned through "$2 million on fundraising" or about "26 percent of his total spending" since he got in the race.
Now, naturally, the Rubio campaign has stepped into this gap, with some spin about how "its slim operation will allow him to survive a crowded field in which campaign donations are being spread thin and that his talent as a candidate will elevate him in the long run." This is just good marketing: Our biggest liability is actually our greatest strength! Heck, if anything, we're worried about having too much money, you know? That's cool, Rubio campaign. But somehow I think y'all should have stopped there, before this part got articulated to a reporter:
“One of the biggest mistakes you can make in a presidential primary like this is to mistake action for progress,” said Rubio deputy campaign manager Rich Beeson. He later added: “The days of having to have 50 field staffers and 25 offices are done. We can have a field office and staff set up in a Starbucks with wireless and get just as much done as we can in a brick-and-mortar office with land lines.”
Oh, hey, what was that, now? The thing about Starbucks?
I mean, sure. One could attempt to set up a campaign field office at a Starbucks. One could attempt to do a lot of things. The question is, "Why would you do that?" Because how would that work?
Actually, the better question is: "Wait a minute, Rich Beeson: Are you doing this, at this very moment?" Does the Rubio campaign, right now, have field offices set up at Starbucks, like... at a four-top table, using the cafe's WiFi, surfing the fixin's stand for free skim milk?
When prominent members of the Rubio campaign talk about this, they're just talking, right? Because when I picture the Rubio campaign, trying to research voter profiles, organize field volunteers, cajole local political influencers and stakeholders, and map out granular campaign strategy in the middle of a Starbucks while the company's real customers dodge Team Rubio's laptop cables and the baristas wonder if they'll ever give up those tables to paying folks -- because wow, those guys have been riding that first order of Frappuccinos for three solid hours -- this does not conjure an image that reflects very well on the Rubio campaign.
The Bush team (which, I'll remind you, has outraised Rubio) is also dealing with stories that depict a campaign in the midst of massive belt-tightening, and offering up similar spin about the changes they're making to adapt to being skint on the campaign trail are actually being done from a "position of strength." But they are still clearly working to maintain a credible field operation. There's no talk of moving into Starbucks and surfing free wireless to victory. To be honest, hearing Beeson talk about this as if it could be a credible campaign plan in the near future is probably going to provide Bush's squad with some unexpected relief.
As far as Rubio goes, man, one of those goofy billionaires really needs to come through with the cheese (or at least the address of a quality co-working space) real soon. In the meantime, good luck with this campaign office plan, because according to the company's own online store locator, there isn't a single Starbucks in Iowa west of Des Moines off Interstate 80 until you get to Council Bluffs.
Jason Linkins edits "Eat The Press" for The Huffington Post, and co-hosts the HuffPost politics podcast, "So That Happened." Listen to the latest episode: