Marco Rubio took it on the chin last night, and there’s no real way to spin that. There’s a lot of despair in Rubio-land from people who expected him to finish second or maybe challenge Trump for the win in New Hampshire. Obviously, that did not happen, and a fifth place finish is a real setback. No one is here to deny that.
On the other hand, there’s reason to believe that Rubio will rebound quickly, and emerge as one of the last three candidates standing, whereas Kasich and Bush are likely done.
In the first place, the exit polling pretty clearly indicated that one single incident – the debate on Saturday night – was hugely important in Rubio’s loss. Exit polling indicated that an astounding half of New Hampshire voters made up their minds in the last 48 hours of the campaign, and that over 60% of them viewed the Saturday debate as very significant in their vote.
It goes without saying that basing your decision on a candidate’s performance in a single debate – especially when there were seven debates that came before in which he performed very well – is stupid and foolhardy, but the people of New Hampshire are entitled to believe any damfool thing they want, including the idea that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are the two most qualified people to lead our country.
But the fact that Rubio lost due pretty much exclusively to one debate means that righting the ship in the next debate can just as easily erase the memory. Rick Perry could have recovered in 2012 well, but he was simply not up to the task of performing on the national debate stage.
On the other hand, we don’t have to wonder about whether Marco Rubio can perform well in debates. He’s already done it. Repeatedly. To the extent that anyone (like Jeb Bush) might look to the Christie blueprint for how to defeat Rubio in a debate (dog him repeatedly and interrupt after every answer he gives with a snide remark), they must have also noticed that while Christie knocked Rubio down a notch, he also immolated himself. Also, there is the more important fact that neither Jeb nor Kasich is up to the task of dogging Rubio like Christie did.
Most importantly, though, is the fact that Rubio in his concession speech last night showed clear understanding of why he lost and what he needs to do to prevent it from happening again. Unlike Trump, who learned from losing Iowa that Ted Cruz “cheated,” Rubio knows what caused his loss, accepted responsibility, and showed determination to prevent it from happening again:
The best news of all for Rubio is that he has an opportunity to correct his error almost immediately, as he will have a debate in South Carolina in three days. This will give him plenty of time afterwards for him to reassert his rise as the candidate who can run nationally and unite the party.
Rubio had a rough night last night, but he’ll be fine. Jeb and Kasich’s delusions are going to come to an end sooner rather than later.