Did the New York Times Just Make Marco Rubio a Lot More Relatable?

An exposé of the Florida senator's finances shows that, yes, he certainly can understand the problems of ordinary Americans.

Jeanette Rubio, the wife of Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio (R), speaks to the press after voting at an early voting location on October 22, 2010 in Hialeah, Florida.

Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Just a week after the New York Times outed Marco Rubio and his wife as having racked up 17 traffic tickets over 18 years—a number that, for Miami, frankly seems low—the paper published another reminder on Tuesday that Marco Rubio is not a scion of a political dynasty. In a piece titled “Struggles With Finances Track Marco Rubio’s Career,” the Times details how Rubio has, sometimes, had difficulty getting his finances in order.

Now, on one hand, this is somewhat relevant information. He is running for president, after all, and if he’s going to tell us what his favorite three rap songs are (“Straight Outta Compton” by N.W.A., “Killuminati” by Tupac Shakur, and “Lose Yourself” by Eminem), certainly his checkbook wouldn’t seem off the table. More information never hurt anybody. On the other, though: The article is not particularly instructive on how a President Rubio would run the country’s finances. Have you seen our national debt? Rubio could invest his entire fortune in laserdisc futures and still have a sounder budget than the country does.

More to the point: If the Times wanted to make Rubio look relatable to the average American—more like them than his potential opponents—they couldn’t have come up with much better than “show he has had financial problems.” Rand Paul has never had financial problems. Hillary Clinton has never had financial problems. During his recent charity bout with Evander Holyfield, Mitt Romney was literally sweating $100 bills. Rubio’s father was a bartender and his mother was a housekeeper at a casino. Jeb Bush’s father was the president. Rubio took out $100,000 in student loans that he just paid off three years ago; most of his opponents have probably never even seen a tuition bill. These are points in Rubio’s favor. People will like this about him.

Also on Bloomberg Politics: Marco Rubio's Retirement Account Moves Are a Definite No-No, Financial Adviser Says

We’ve all made our fair share of mistakes, particularly if our parents didn’t happen to be oil barons or directors of the CIA. Some mistakes have been worse than others; some made out of expedience, some out of gluttony, some out of financial magical thinking. (The “if I don’t look at the account balance, maybe there will be more in there than I think!” self-delusion.) The Times details several Rubio financial missteps. Let’s take a look at each and see where they rank on the Scale of Poor Decisions—and, more saliently, whether they will make the average voters like Rubio more or less. 

He bought a boat. The big damning anecdote at the top of the piece features Rubio, having just signed a $800,000 advance to write a memoir, deciding to buy a boat. An $80,000 “luxury speedboat,” even. Now, as Veep presidential spokesperson Mike McClintock can tell you, boats are not smart investments. But come on. The story goes into great detail about how many money problems Rubio has had throughout his life, but then when he finally gets a big check, helping him get out from under it for the first time ever, the story hectors him for buying a boat? One that was a “dream” for him? The old Steinbeck quote holds here: “In America, the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” The minute Rubio wasn’t poor anymore, he got himself a boat, because he always wanted a boat. Who has a problem with that? Rubio Likability Quotient: Increased.

Mitt Romney’s crew flagged his finances in the veep vetting. These people work for Romney: They were probably amazed anybody would buy such a cheap boat in the first place. Rubio Likability Quotient: Increased.

He used a state Republican credit card to pay for a paving project and a trip to a family reunion. This seems a little shady on its surface, but then again: This was done openly, and the debt was paid off. If there is a person who claims that, when given a company credit card, they’ve never once used it to pay a personal expense they didn’t quite have enough on their personal card to pay off immediately, that person is lying. If it were systematic, or he were trying to claim they were campaign expenses, we’d have a problem. But he didn’t. He just needed a little temporary financial relief to get out of a jam. We’ve all been there. Rubio Likability Quotient: Unchanged.

He liquidated a $68,000 retirement account, costing him “$24,000 in taxes and penalties. The Times calls this “unwise” and “widely discouraged by financial experts,” both of which are undoubtedly true. But, you know, it happens. I mean, it is his money. Oh, and offending “financial experts” might well be a campaign plank in 2016. Rubio Likability Quotient: Increased.

“Inattentive accounting that led to years of unpaid local government fees.” Is this the traffic tickets thing again? That said: “Inattentive” is not exactly the first word you want associated with your president. Rubio Likability Quotient: Decreased.

He sold a house for $18,000 less than he and a friend paid for it a decade ago.” Yeah, well, welcome to the party, pal. My sister’s ex-boyfriend bought at the wrong time and sold his place for half what he paid for it. We all took baths after the housing bubble burst. At one point Rubio nearly foreclosed because he missed mortgage payments. Yeah, that’s something the average American who has lived through the last decade can’t relate to. Rubio Likability Quotient: Increased.

A strikingly low savings rate.” Hey get over yourself, Times. How much cash do you have on hand? Rubio Likability Quotient: Unchanged.

Since 2012, they have started college savings accounts for his four children, put away at least $150,000, given $60,000 to charity, and refinanced the mortgage on their primary home to lower the monthly payments. But what about the boat?! Rubio Likability Quotient: Increased.

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