There's no doubt that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio killed it during Wednesday evening's Republican presidential debate. Many of Rubio's remarks earned him rousing applause from the audience, and the junior senator definitely proved himself a worthy opponent to frontrunners Ben Carson and Donald Trump. Though the debate was intended to focus on the economy, some of Rubio's most memorable moments came from his discussion of the plight of "average Americans," as well as his critique of the mainstream media. But Rubio inadvertently distanced himself from the middle class, which could harm his presidential campaign.
Rubio has often told the story of his father being a bartender and his mother being a maid as a way to relate with voters on the campaign trail. He used the story in the third Republican debate, saying that his parents worked hard to create a good life for his family. But Rubio also made an interesting statement as he chatted about his family. When asked about his personal financial troubles, which have been well-documented by the media, Rubio dodged the question, saying that "I'm not worried about my finances. I'm worried about the finances of everyday Americans who today are struggling in an economy that is not producing good paying jobs while everything else costs more."
Whether he meant to or not, Rubio distanced himself from average Americans. Later in the debate, he went on to say, "I make a lot more than the average American," further emphasizing the divide between his family and middle-class workers. Rubio uses his family's backstory to make himself into a candidate for the people, but emphasizing that he's making considerable money now weakens that point.
Of course, Rubio isn't completely wrong to go on the defensive when asked about his finances. CNBC moderator Becky Quick asked Rubio about liquidating his retirement account, to which Rubio responded that he's "raising a family in the 21st century." He may actually have a point about the "mainstream media." When Rubio fulfilled his dream of purchasing a boat, The New York Times ran an article about his alleged financial troubles which included a reference to a "luxury speedboat," when it was actually just an offshore fishing boat.
Rubio's personal finances have been on trial, perhaps unfairly, during his campaign, and telling the story of his parents' jobs and his family's struggle is a good way to respond. Still, if Rubio wants to connect with middle-class voters, he'll need to prove that he still understands their struggle, even if he's in a financially stable place.