- 23 февраля, 03:03
- POLITICO. Top Stories
MIAMI — Bill Nelson got the cheers. Marco Rubio ended up with bruises.
The gripping, nationally televised Florida town hall on guns that unfolded on CNN on Wednesday evening ended up as a tale of two senators, with Nelson emerging in far better political shape than when he went in, and Rubio turning out worse for wear in the eyes of many.
The body language of the two Florida senators Thursday told the story.
Rubio largely stuck to Twitter on Thursday to amplify the points he tried or wanted to make the night before but that were drowned out by boos or jeers from a liberal crowd ideologically opposed to the pro-gun Republican after last week’s slaughter of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
In contrast, Nelson went on a victory lap in Tallahassee, where Republicans are on defense over guns, to take the rhetorical fight over firearms to Gov. Rick Scott, his likely opponent this year who skipped the town hall the night before. Scott’s refusal to show up was akin to a campaign contribution for Nelson, who repeatedly chided the governor over guns and made sure to call him out Wednesday night for not showing up, in contrast to Rubio.
“We’ve got a whole community grieving. They want action,” Nelson said Thursday in Tallahassee when asked why he publicly noted Scott’s absence from the forum.
Nelson gave credit to Rubio at the town hall, saying, “Sen. Rubio had the guts to come.”
Many thought that Rubio deserved some credit just for showing up. But some voices on the right thought it was just a bad idea for Rubio to attend the town hall, called a “Trotskyite show trial against the Second Amendment” by the husband of NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch.
Nelson, the low-key Democrat, was largely praised by liberals and ignored by conservatives. Rubio generated far more interest and dislike from liberals, as well as mixed commentary from conservatives and even allies.
“It was like a bizarre scapegoating ritual. And what did it accomplish?” asked one longtime Rubio supporter. “So he’s an NRA stooge to the crowd, far-right gun owners now say he’s not one of them and, if he’s thinking of ever running for president again, this will haunt him.”
Rubio knew what he was getting into. The event was held in heavily Democratic Broward County, which voted against him by the largest margin in 2016 when he ran for reelection — 244,160 votes.
Unlike Rubio, Nelson started off the forum with exactly what the crowd wanted to hear: “Now there ought to be some common sense solutions like getting the assault rifles off the streets.”
After applause died down, Nelson delivered another crowd-pleaser: “Another common sense solution — having criminal backgrounds on everyone acquiring of a gun.”
Rubio, though, had to face the father of a murdered student who criticized the senator’s refusal to support a ban on assault weapons, and a student who won standing and thunderous applause for asking Rubio to refuse NRA money. Rubio said he wouldn’t, and was vigorously booed.
Rubio won some applause for voicing support for raising the age limit on rifle purchases to 21 and for saying he’d consider banning high-volume magazines. He found a more receptive audience on Twitter after his rough treatment.
“Banning all semi-auto weapons may have been popular with the audience at #CNNTownHall, but it is a position well outside the mainstream,” Rubio wrote in one message. In another, he posted two images of rifles, one with and one without a pistol grip and pointed out that “under N.Y. State ‘Assault Weapon’ ban 1 simple cosmetic change pictured here is difference between legal & banned. Otherwise exactly same.”
In a brief interview with POLITICO, Rubio said he knew what he was getting into but owed it to his constituents to give his views and try to find common ground. But, he acknowledged, “it wasn’t a very good forum” for the exchange of “substantive” ideas and debate.
“I don’t know if it helped or hurt, to be frank,” Rubio said of the event, acknowledging that it was “an audience of people whose children were killed and whose children experienced incredible trauma. ... it was a terrible gun tragedy in a community that already held strong views on guns.”
Nelson said the issue of guns won’t go away.
“It will be one of many important issues,” Nelson said. “And I believe that these kids who have been so passionate and so articulate, in fact, are going to keep it alive as an issue. And particularly so in South Florida.”
On Thursday, as he did the day before, Scott remained out of the public eye but through a spokeswoman took issue with Nelson's criticisms of his record as governor.
“Not shocking that Senator Nelson wants to exploit this tragedy and make it into a political stump speech,” said spokeswoman Joanna Burgos. “I'll leave Senator Nelson to his politicking during this tragedy. Governor Scott has spent the week attending funerals, meeting with parents, students, law enforcement, etc., to make sure this does not happen again. No room for politics today.”
POLITICO staff writer Alexandra Glorioso contributed to this report