There is nothing new or shocking about Marco Rubio's shiny boots. Why the fuss? It's Republican presidential politics and it matters. The investigative skills of the national media are sure to be unleashed on the cost, payment source, style, polish, heel height and seller and we are assured of a couple of days of intense scrutiny. Take that, Donald Trump.
Accessorizing is an insight into the candidates. Remember Rick Santorum's vest sweater? Too nerdy. Rick Perry's glasses? Too hipster. Both things sorta stuck to the candidate even if Santorum made it a virtue.
Style matters so much to Republicans because they have so little else to argue about. The Republican electorate has forced almost total policy unanimity on the field. Can you name a serious divergence on any issue from the Tea Party, Supply-Sider, Koch Brothers agenda of tax cuts for the rich, repeal Obamacare, more guns, no abortion, no gay marriage, no immigration and carpet-bombing. (Yes: Rand Paul on the use of force but that's it). When you enforce absolute ideological conformity, there's not much else to chat about.
So what's up with the boots? Well, the first observation is to note who raised the issue. Ted Cruz. The same Ted Cruz who has concluded that the real obstacle to the nomination isn't the Donald, it's young, good-looking articulate Marco Rubio. Say what you will about Cruz, he is one razor-sharp candidate. He figures things out first, and reacts first. So his campaign tweets: "A Vote for Marco Rubio Is a Vote for Men's High-Heeled Booties." There is much food for thought here, so let's deconstruct.
Nothing exceptional until we get to "men's high-heeled." Google "men's high heels." The first sites that pop up are those for cross-dressing and elevator apparel, which evidences only what an algorithm believes Americans are searching for. But in the context of Republican-speak, gender-bending and short stature do not count as vote-getting attributes.
"Booties." Google "Booties." Lots of sites for woman's shoes. Hmm. With a chuckle, the Cruz folks have "Willie-Hortoned" Rubio. Beneath the smile the message is that Rubio is young, good-looking and of a new generation which tolerates cultural exploration forbidden to the Republican electorate. He ain't "one of us." This isn't the first such shot Cruz has taken at Rubio's youth and persona. He rushed out an attack ad when Rubio put out video of his betting on a fantasy sports site. A pattern emerges.
In the old days, Lee Atwater and his heirs "Swift Boat-ed" John Kerry, "Willie Horton-ed" Mike Dukakis and "Jeremiah Wright-ed" Obama, winning two of those three contests. The ads were brutal and mostly untrue. Ted Cruz makes no such mistake. Mean he may be, but there's a light touch also. Rubio as frivolous, girly and of uncertain provenance all with a smile.
Rubio seems oblivious in the same ways that Kerry and Dukakis didn't get the problem. The Republican race is all about character, anger, persona and authenticity. There will be a corrosive effect on voters if Rubio keeps popping up in ways that give Cruz a chance to define him as a suspect character. And if Cruz can smack down Rubio, the Republican primaries turn into a sort of two-person race. And Cruz can win that contest.