This was not the Trump show. There were far less people — 750 maybe, compared with at least 10,000 for the Donald. There was less obvious vitriol and the whole thing lacked the fever dream feeling that seeped from the pores of Trump's September rally at the American Airlines Center. The crowd that gathered to see GOP presidential hopeful Marco Rubio was, like the one that assembled to see the GOP front runner, predominantly white and overwhelmingly over 40. They were forced to listen to a similar nostalgic mix of awful music as they waited to see their man and cheered in the spots one would expect.
But there was optimism. Unlike Trump, the doomsday profit lurching toward the Iowa caucuses talking about making a crippled America great again, Rubio at least smiles when he talks about Daesh using the American immigration system against Americans. He keeps smiling, too, even when protesters show up and accuse him of being "owned by Jews" as one vociferous man did on Wednesday. He jokes, in a self-deprecating way, about taking sips of water in reference to his awkward 2013 State of the Union response.
Rubio is, as he is presented by much of the political press, something like a moderate alternative to Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who's wrested away Trump's lead in Iowa. He certainly seems moderate — he's got an aw shucks demeanor and a rags to riches narrative of Cuban immigrant parents to help him out — but substantively, he's not significantly different than Cruz on anything other than immigration.
Travis Kahl, who works around the corner from the North Dallas Westin booked by the Rubio campaign and came in expecting to vote for Cruz, said after the rally that he was 50/50. His expectation that Rubio would prove a slick speaker was confirmed, but Kahl said, "[Rubio] didn't seem like too much of a politician."
That, above all, is the key to gaining traction in the 2016 GOP race: Somehow giving the appearance of not being too much of a politician despite seeking maybe the biggest political job in the world. Trump has a legitimate claim to being an outsider. Cruz and Rubio do not. They're both sitting senators, political strivers who've clawed their ways into the halls of power. And they both want desperately not to be. The both want a much smaller federal government, a heavily streamlined tax code and severely decreased access to abortion. They both, along with Rubio's crowd Wednesday, believe that the United States' overwhelming Christian majority is being marginalized. Cruz might be more effective rhetorically, but Rubio is definitely better looking. They are far more like Kang and Kodos than, say, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, who have wide disagreements on policy — especially on the things like income inequality and corporate power.
Thanks to Texas' first early primary in memory — which, because of a smart move by the state's political parties, will be held March 1 as part of southern Super Tuesday — Dallas is likely to see the three lead GOP contenders again multiple times. Rubio, according to recent polling, is about 20 points behind both sorta-native-son Cruz and Trump.