Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is one of the leading contenders for the GOP presidential nomination. The New York Times this week reported he has not always been a wise steward of his money. When an $800,000 payment to write a book held out the promise of helping his family become solvent, he spent $80,000 on a recreational boat instead. At other times, he used Florida GOP credit cards to pay for renovations at his home, though he reimbursed the party, and barely avoided foreclosure on a second home after failing to make payments on it for five months. "Like most Americans, I know what it's like for money to be a limited resource and to have to manage it accordingly," he told the Times.
Is this fair game for campaign reporting? Do Rubio's finances tell us anything about his presidential prospects? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.
JOEL MATHIS: I wanted to give Marco Rubio a pass. Really, I did. Who among us in Generation X hasn't had a heck of a time scraping our finances together into something reasonably adult-looking? Many of us spent the pre-recession years putting our lifestyles on credit cards, and the post-recession years paying it all off. No sense in being the sinner who casts the first stone, right? But let's cast, shall we? Here's the thing: His campaign has been at odds to show how Rubio's problems show he shares the financial aches and pains of ordinary Americans. The complete opposite is true.
If Rubio weren't a senator - if he were, say, making $20,000 a year instead of $174,000 he makes in office - and if he'd received a windfall of $800 instead of $800,000, then used that windfall to buy an Xbox to get finances in order, there'd be no end of tut-tutting by Republicans about the pathologies of the poor.
If Rubio was a regular American and he'd used somebody else's credit cards to pay for renovations and family trips, he - even though it was an honest mistake! - might be facing embezzlement charges instead of being allowed to quietly pay those items back.
If Rubio was a regular American and he'd failed to pay a house mortgage for five months, well, we know what probably would've happened in most cases.
If Rubio was a regular American, he probably wouldn't get to have his financial problems fixed by a billionaire friend.
Rubio isn't a regular American. He's rich, by any realistic standard, and powerful. And he's running for president never having proven an ability to master a checkbook - or even the ability to have somebody master the checkbook for him.
Rubio's life proves that once you get rich, it's difficult to be unwise enough to blow it completely. If you're a regular American, though, you're often a paycheck away from disaster.
Would Republicans be standing up for Marco Rubio this week if he were a regular American? It sure seems unlikely.
BEN BOYCHUK: Marco Rubio paid off his student loans and bought a small boat with a six-figure publisher's advance from a book deal a couple of years ago. Evidently, we're supposed to think this makes the Florida Republican freshman U.S. Senator . what exactly? Not savvy enough to negotiate an eight-figure deal? Too stupid to set up a family foundation that would give him access to hundreds of millions of dollars in "charitable" contributions from foreign leaders and multinational corporations? Too green to lean on his crony capitalist pals for favors? Or do such standards only apply to the Democratic spouses of former U.S. presidents? True, not too many of us get $800,000 advances to write a book about our rise to political stardom. Then again, very few of us get elected to the United States Senate. It's a fairly exclusive club - and one that most of us would be happy never to enter.
But some of us know what it's like to have student loans or a mortgage. And more than a few of us know the pain of losing money on an investment, as Rubio did with a house he bought with a friend that he nearly lost to foreclosure and sold at a loss last month.
Making sense of what exercises the political media's interest can be confusing at times. Here's a guide for the perplexed.
If you're a baby boomer multimillionaire Democrat like Hillary Clinton who talks a good game about sympathizing with the concerns of "everyday Americans," your nearly impenetrable finances are of interest only to your political enemies.
If you're a Generation X Republican like Rubio who seems to have broad appeal, then every little thing is ripe for national scandal - down to the number of traffic tickets you got since your early 20s.
Ignore this silly stuff. The problem with Marco Rubio isn't the way he handles his money, but the fact that he's a charismatic first-term senator who speaks well and not much else. Republicans may recall another recent candidate who fits that description. The job of the next GOP president will be to clean up that guy's mess.
Ben Boychuk (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal. Joel Mathis (email@example.com) is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine.