Yes, boots. Or more specifically, stack-heeled, ankle boots.
The silliness began when a New York Times reporter, who apparently had too much time on his hands, tweeted that Rubio was “rocking some seriously fashionable boots” and included a photo of said footwear. As it turns out, the boots are Florsheim’s that cost about $135, which makes “seriously fashionable” an ironic phrase at best.
That tweet led to a series of snide comments cloaked as fun by other candidates. Ted Cruz‘s campaign staff had a field day at Rubio’s expense. Communication director Rick Tyler said “A Vote for Marco Rubio Is a Vote for Men’s High-Heeled Booties.” Another Cruz aide said that Rubio supported “Italian boots on the ground.”
Carly Fiorina tweeted a picture of her black suede high-heel boots, asking Rubio “Can you rock these?” Rand Paul tweeted a video of himself in Whoopi Goldberg’s dressing room holding a pair of outlandish gold and black shoes, noting in a somewhat effeminate voice that that “Marco Rubio has these cute new boots and I don’t want to be outdone.”
Okay, all in good fun, right? Actually, not. The thinly veiled subtext of all these comments is that Rubio is a little light in the loafers, so to speak.
“They’re clearly trying to effeminize Marco Rubio,” Steve Schmidt, who ran John McCain’s 2008 campaign, told Politico.
Yes, in 2016 in the Republican party, it is still worth your while to imply a rival candidate is less than a real man, based on his shoes. And the implication that someone is effeminate is closely linked to the idea that he is gay.
Rubio does look like the juvenile lead in a musical about Congress, and his age does play against him by making him look callow. But of all the things to attack him for, being insufficiently masculine has to be one of the most ridiculous. The assumption is that strength can only be conveyed through overt displays of testosterone, which ankle boots are not.
In the greater scheme of things, Rubio’s boots are a footnote in a GOP presidential race characterized by rampant homophobia, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. But the fact that Rubio’s rivals think that they can gain an advantage by suggesting he’s not manly enough shows you just where the Republican party is today. It’s not a pretty place.