February 6, 2016
That was a costly few minutes for Marco Rubio. How costly? If he’d answered Chris Christie very effectively, he could have put himself in position to finish a very close second at worst, with a great chance of winning South Carolina after. Now it looks like there’s a reason to keep a governor or two around for a while.
Time for the rundown on who won, who lost and who stayed in place:
He stayed in perfect Granite State pitch for the evening. Kasich was able to distinguish himself from the other governors as the most bipartisan. In a quick postgame interview he was buoyant as can be. He did exactly what he intended to. While Christie took down Rubio and Jeb pushed back against Trump, Kasich got to stay positive.
There’s still the matter of how Kasich’s act will translate in South Carolina and further down the road, but the debate went perfectly for him. No candidate’s odds of reaching their desired outcome on Tuesday went up more than his.
Getting better each round. Christie did the grunt work on Rubio, taking him down and enabling Jeb to focus on pitching his own record and more than holding his own in his exchange with Trump.
More than anything, you came away from the event thinking it might actually be neat to have Jeb on the stage in the future. Not only is he no longer painful to watch, he’s legitimately contributing to the discourse. It looks like Bush is determined to push on regardless of the outcome in New Hampshire.
Even if he winds up 4th or 5th, he built his justification. Rubio gave voters, donors, and establishment figures a reason to wait before rallying around him. Christie was an expert assassin, but probably didn’t do enough to make sure voters choose him. Kasich did exactly what he needed to, but he’s yet to do anything to indicate he’ll play outside of New Hampshire.
Add that all up and there’s a reason the world still needs Jeb Bush. More than anything, that’s what he wanted from the debate and his time spent in New Hampshire. If a good debate performance and pictures of his mom pushing her walker through the snow get him a strong second or third place finish, all the better.
Jeb, you are no longer a zombie. Congratulations! Remember everyone, Jeb hadn’t debated since Saddam Hussein was still in power. It took some time to shake the rust off. He’s a better candidate now.
He wasn’t great. The eminent domain exchange with Bush might have cost Trump a few votes among New Hampshire voters who believe very strongly in property rights. That said, when you enter the debate with a big lead and do fairly decently, it’s a clear win.
When the one person with a decent mathematical chance of pushing you falls flat on their face, it’s a win. Trump is a better debater than he was at the beginning. The performance wasn’t as strong as the last debate he participated in, but he did better than the highly-touted guys on each side of him.
There is no excuse for this. Rubio and his team knew these questions were coming. He knew Christie would likely try to slug him. I was so sure Marco would have the right response that I took for granted in the preview that it would work to his advantage.
Oops. For the next debate, I’ll go back to assuming Rubio is a normal candidate who may make a mistake in debate planning and execution.
It was devastating. He is programmed. It’s usually ok because it sounds good. When someone his hitting you on being repetitive and you respond by being repetitive, you’ve guaranteed yourself a cycle of negative clips from here until primary day.
The surviving governors will use this to remind their supporters and donors it’s worth keeping them around at least until South Carolina. Even if Rubio finishes ahead of them, somebody can make the case a non-Cruz/Trump backup is necessary.
Having said all this, Rubio had a good second half of the debate. If you tuned in mid-way, you might have thought he was a winner. He may still be looking for examples of effective leadership, but Marco did show that he doesn’t completely collapse just because he stumbles.
Unfortunately, Rubio’s support isn’t very deep. Fewer of his supporters are 100% locked in, so he had the most to lose from a debate stumble. This wasn’t campaign ending, but his betting market numbers are dropping.
A good fullback is useful in a short yardage situation. Someone to run hard into the line and help clear space for the running back to get a first down. The running back gets most of the glory. We’ll find out on Tuesday if Jeb or Kasich was the running back, but we know Christie was the fullback.
He won the exchange with Rubio coming and going. Marco was the one candidate who had the ability to pick up enough undecided voters to leave everyone else in the dust. That won’t happen now. If Kasich finishes second, if Bush gets three more votes than Rubio, they’ll both owe their pal Chris.
But I’m not sure that he did much to forward himself. Kasich got to do the No Labels, third way, get it done Independent thing. Jeb was the strong, fairly conservative, proven leader. Christie was the tough guy. Nothing wrong with that, but think he helped his opponents get a ticket to South Carolina.
The Doctor didn’t lift himself back into contention, but he did his thing. Carson made it very clear that he’s not going away before South Carolina. He pushed back on Cruz over the Iowa incident. His core supporters were given every reason to continue to stay with him. No major news here.
If it wasn’t for Marco’s face plant, I’d call Ted a loser too. At the beginning of the debate, he was asked about his comments about Trump being too unstable to handle the nuclear arsenal. Instead of addressing it head on with the object of his scorn a couple feet away, Cruz sidestepped.
The question wasn’t a shock. Cruz didn’t want to waste the debate slugging it out with Trump, which makes sense, but he showed weakness in not addressing what he’d said. A couple minutes later, he was asked about the actions of his campaign in directing Iowa precinct captains to tell voters Carson was quitting.
He apologized again, but didn’t sound that contrite and gave a lengthy, legalistic answer explaining the chain of events. Before anyone could give Ted’s rough start much thought, Christie-Rubio knocked it out of the general consciousness.
Like Rubio, Cruz had a better second half, and did well answering a question about North Korea. Like usual, Ted was stronger on questions that were a little harder to anticipate. The less he jumps into a stump speech, the better.
What’s bad for Rubio is good for Cruz, so while Ted missed some opportunities and didn’t pick up much ground, he also has less concern about Rubio heading into South Carolina with too much momentum to stop.