Twenty-five minutes into Saturday night’s Republican presidential primary, Chris Christie went “full Jersey” on Marco Rubio. The New Jersey governor delivered a series of verbal blows that the Florida Senator failed to answer. Instead, Rubio somewhat mechanically repeated his memorized lines attacking President Barack Obama.
“Let’s dispel this notion that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing,” Rubio said. “He is trying to change this country.” He repeated a variation of that three more times. Critics immediately tagged his response as “robotic.”
Seizing the moment were Kevin McAlister and Eddie Vale, operatives with the liberal super PAC American Bridge 21st Century. The two improvised costumes to greet reporters and audience members attending Rubio’s first public appearance early Sunday morning in Londonderry, New Hampshire.
On WMNF-FM in Tampa on Thursday, FloridaPolitics.com interviewed McAlister beginning by asking him about the pair’s prank.
McAlister: We were in our hotel rooms doing rapid response for American Bridge and came up with this idea to dress in cardboard boxes as robots, so we managed to get to Lowe’s Saturday night right after the debate and stayed up pretty late, until around 1:30 a.m. making these costumes, and we were able to get out to Rubio’s first event Sunday morning.
FP: I got there around 8:15 a.m or so and you guys were already there. What time did you get there?
McAlister: We got there a little before 8. It worked out way better than we thought it would. I think that some of that was just getting into the last three days of the election up in New Hampshire. Reporters were looking for something else to cover and fortunately, we were there with these robot costumes.
FP: I put up my photo on Facebook of you guys immediately. I looked at the New York Daily News homepage at about noon, and the photo of you guys was staring at me. That thing went worldwide. You couldn’t have been expecting that type of coverage.
McAlister: No, not at all. I think it really tapped into what people have been saying about Rubio, even before the debate, that he is just about his talking points. To his credit, he is good at giving the same stump speech over and over again. But I think Chris Christie sort of opened the hole that says that maybe there isn’t much substance behind it.
FP: Now on Tuesday, Election day, all of a sudden you guys were back in the news. There was some footage at a Rubio rally that spread. What happened on Tuesday?
McAlister: So Rubio was going to different polling locations. It was Election Day. And we were there to greet him and make our case again that he’s just another robot. And I guess between staff and volunteers for Rubio, it got a little aggressive. I think it finally hit a chord and they weren’t too happy that we were there. So there was a lot of pushing and shoving. I mean, in any campaign you expect that volunteers and staff are going to try and cover signs and that sort of thing, but it got aggressive. One of the robots was put in a headlock by Rubio’s New Hampshire campaign manager– the director – the chairman. And it just got pretty aggressive. So we took that as a sign that we had actually hit on a nerve with Rubio and his staff. And it was just a little surprising. You hope that a candidate and his staff wouldn’t really get shaken up by Christie and two guys wearing cardboard boxes. For us, it really sort of questioned whether he’s ready to be commander in chief if he can’t handle us.
FP: Well, Chris Christie was a prosecutor, as he was always reminding us, so he can be quite aggressive. Now I know American Bridge – I’ve been getting your releases for a couple of years now. A lot of them are anti-Marco Rubio. Do you go off on other Republican candidates or – what’s the mission that you guys are trying to do during this campaign season?
McAlister: Our general motivation is just exposing Republicans and holding them accountable. We do focus on Rubio, but we’re also focusing on Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. And we do a lot in senate races and governors races and house races, too. So I’m sure that while you’re focused on what we’re doing with Rubio just because of Florida, we are out there doing a lot on other candidates.
FP: We’ve got so many primaries coming up here, of course. Will you guys be out there on the road in the next few weeks and months?
McAlister: Well the funny thing is that Eddie and I actually went down to South Carolina yesterday (Wednesday). We skipped the election coverage in New Hampshire on Tuesday night and took a flight down to South Carolina so we could be at his events down there, and I think we sort of threw off Rubio and his staff that we were actually trailing them. We did have to get back to D.C. to get back to our day jobs after wearing cardboard boxes for several days. We do have plans to keep this narrative up to make sure that everybody knows that criticism of Rubio exists. And between South Carolina nine days from now and Nevada three days later, there are some plans in the works to keep this going.