On Tuesday, as Granite Staters brushed the snow off their cars and headed to the polls, a disturbance rippled across the world of New Hampshire politics. Two guys in cardboard boxes with colanders on their heads showed up at a Marco Rubio rally: “Rubio Robots,” sent to troll the establishment-friendly Florida senator for robotically short-circuiting during Saturday’s GOP debate. The robots—employees of the liberal super-PAC American Bridge—quickly went viral on social media when angry Rubio supporters roughed them up and video of the encounter rocketed across Twitter. By Tuesday afternoon, the robots (“Marco Roboto” and “Rubio Talking Point 3000”) were so famous that tourists in Manchester were stopping reporters on the street to inquire about the whereabouts in hopes of snapping a picture.
On Tuesday evening, as the returns came in and cinched Rubio’s collapse, I spoke with one of the Rubiobots, Eddie Vale, 35, who was already on the ground in South Carolina preparing to troll Rubio at his noon event. Here’s a lightly edited transcript of what he had to say:
Bloomberg Politics: Whose idea was the Rubio Robot?
Eddie Vale: Myself; Rebecca Parks, our tracking director; and Kevin McAlister, our deputy communications director, were watching the debate and as Christie was whaling on him we looked at each other and said it would be hilarious to make a robot costume for his event the next day. We were excited about it because [it was an] opportunity not just for a funny or trolling stunt, but a moment that really highlighted a key vulnerability for him. So after debate, we ran to Lowes and grabbed some stuff and stayed up till like 1:30 assembling.
The original plan was we were going to do it once, send a tweet or two we could laugh about and get back to our regularly scheduled programming. But their staff and volunteers went so crazy about it we realized Christie had really highlighted a key Rubio vulnerability. So we just kept doing it!
Have you been a costumed candidate-troll before, or was this your first time?
Yes, I was once a toxic waste barrel, but that was many eons ago as a young staffer for NYPIRG.
You blew up on YouTube and Twitter after being physically accosted by Rubio supporters. Did you expect to be manhandled?
From the previous days, we knew [they] were going to try and block us with signs, but never imagined that they would react that badly to a common political tactic. But [it] clearly struck a nerve with his folks.
Did you wear a cup?
Hindsight is 20/20. That would've been smart.
Why did you go after Rubio and not Trump, or some other Republican?
We came up to New Hampshire with a plan to hit all of the Republicans, which is usually what we do. But in the debate it was such a “moment” we threw the playbook out the window. That being said, while this got way more attention, we've kept grinding away with our usual tracking research, etc., against Trump et al. just didn't get noticed with all the Rubio-bot mania.
Were Rubio's staff angry, or discombobulated?
At first they seemed caught off guard, which let us get in all the shots. Then they clearly overreacted with pushing and shoving, which made it a much bigger story.
You're already in South Carolina. Does this mean the Rubio robots are in it for the long haul?
Rubiobot is kind of disappointed how cold it is also in S.C., so his battery life time is still TBD!