Against the Grain

Cracks in the Granite for Rubio

A shaky debate performance raises doubts about his place atop the GOP in New Hampshire.

Marco Rubio at Saturday night's Manchester debate.
AP Foto/David Goldman
Josh Kraushaar
Add to Briefcase
Josh Kraushaar
Feb. 7, 2016, 8:01 p.m.

In New Hamp­shire, front-run­ning Don­ald Trump has been slip­ping in the polls. Marco Ru­bio, who entered the week with all the mo­mentum, stumbled in Sat­urday’s de­bate when he re­peated the same lines in re­sponse to Chris Christie’s at­tack that he’s a scrip­ted pol. Christie, who had the best night of those on stage, is non­ethe­less polling near the bot­tom of the pack. And Jeb Bush is still strug­gling to hit double di­gits in polls. What gives?

— Ohio Gov. John Kasich didn’t have his strongest de­bate per­form­ance Sat­urday, but it was good enough. By fo­cus­ing on his op­tim­ist­ic, cent­rist mes­sage and avoid­ing hits from his op­pon­ents, he’s poised to pull off a sur­prise Tues­day night. He oc­cu­pies a unique niche in the field, run­ning as a mod­er­ate in one of the few states where they play a con­sequen­tial role in a GOP primary. Kasich’s de­cision to skip Iowa and fo­cus all his en­ergy on New Hamp­shire could well pay off.

— For all the cri­ti­cism of Ru­bio after the de­bate, he still is well-po­si­tioned for a strong New Hamp­shire show­ing. The two most-likely al­tern­at­ives for Ru­bio sup­port­ers have their own bag­gage. Bush’s fa­vor­ab­il­ity scores have con­sist­ently been me­diocre, and his policy views are nearly in­dis­tin­guish­able from Ru­bio’s. It’s hard to ima­gine that mil­lions in su­per PAC money couldn’t de­throne Ru­bio, but that a de­bate slip-up would take him down. And by be­ing the hatchet man, Christie may have stun­ted Ru­bio’s mo­mentum, but it’s still dif­fi­cult to see a can­did­ate in the back of the pack sur­ging to the front at the last minute. If any­one gains from the Ru­bio pile-on, it’s Kasich and Ted Cruz.

— Trump is locked in­to his 25 per­cent blue-col­lar slice of the elect­or­ate and hasn’t been able to turn his for­tunes around in New Hamp­shire, miss­ing a town hall and get­ting booed at the de­bate. But thanks to the splintered field, that might be enough to win. After Iowa, it looked very plaus­ible that Ru­bio would con­sol­id­ate enough es­tab­lish­ment sup­port to make a run for first place. After the de­bate, it looks less likely.   

Ru­bio’s strategists fore­cast a second-place fin­ish in New Hamp­shire, so if he can’t live up to those ex­pect­a­tions, the race head­ing in­to South Car­o­lina will be as muddled as ever. That would mean we’d see Cruz and Trump scrap­ping for the same types of voters down South, while Ru­bio will square off against a GOP gov­ernor, one who shares many of his views but one who also will ham­mer him on his lack of ex­per­i­ence.

TRAIL MIX

1. Don’t ex­pect Bush to drop out of the pres­id­en­tial race, no mat­ter what hap­pens in the New Hamp­shire primar­ies Tues­day. His broth­er, former Pres­id­ent George W. Bush, is already slated to cam­paign for him in South Car­o­lina. His su­per PAC’s ad fea­tur­ing the former pres­id­ent is air­ing only in South Car­o­lina. Bush ad­visers are telling donors that he’s in the race for the long haul—with one ally even ar­guing that he’s in the race un­til Cali­for­nia (on June 7!). Their think­ing: There’s still room for an op­por­tun­ity for an ex­per­i­enced can­did­ate to gain ground—and with Ru­bio’s much-mocked de­bate per­form­ance, the field is as wide open as ever. But if Bush can’t even hit double di­gits in New Hamp­shire, it’s hard to see how that ar­gu­ment holds up.

2. After Ru­bio ex­ceeded ex­pect­a­tions in the Iowa caucuses, he re­ceived a slew of con­gres­sion­al en­dorse­ments—from Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Sen. Tim Scott of South Car­o­lina, Rep. Lynn West­mo­re­land of Geor­gia, and Rep. Matt Sal­mon of Ari­zona. There will be more to come. We’re hear­ing that Sen. Tom Cot­ton of Arkan­sas, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, Sen. Dan Sul­li­van of Alaska, and Sen. Deb Fisc­her of Neb­raska are all plan­ning to line up with Team Ru­bio—with stra­tegic­ally timed an­nounce­ments com­ing down the road.

3. Bush’s heated ex­change with Trump over em­in­ent do­main got over­shad­owed by the Ru­bio-Christie joust, but it was just as con­sequen­tial. Bush got the bet­ter of Trump, flus­ter­ing the busi­ness­man when at­tack­ing him for raz­ing an eld­erly wo­man’s home to build a casino park­ing lot. Trump then mocked the Manchester de­bate audi­ence as be­ing filled with donors and spe­cial in­terests. We’ve be­come so ac­cus­tomed to as­sum­ing that Trump is Te­flon, but that wasn’t a good fi­nal look for him.

4. Over­looked in the pres­id­en­tial cam­paign: Sen. Rob Port­man of Ohio came out against the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship last week. Port­man, the top trade of­fi­cial un­der George W. Bush, is re­spond­ing to the grow­ing pop­u­list surge with­in his party. But his flip-flop on the is­sue shows what a dif­fi­cult race he faces against former Gov. Ted Strick­land. Port­man, des­pite be­ing highly re­spec­ted in Wash­ing­ton, has struggled to con­nect with the blue-col­lar base that makes up much of the GOP elect­or­ate in Ohio. He badly needs a strong top-of-the-tick­et Re­pub­lic­an to help his reelec­tion chances.

COR­REC­TION: An earli­er ver­sion of the story mis­stated Ru­bio’s fin­ish in the Iowa caucuses; he fin­ished third.

What We're Following See More »
GRASSLEY STILL WANTS HER TO APPEAR ON MONDAY
Ford Asks for FBI Investigation into Her Claims
8 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Christine Blasey Ford told Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley Tuesday night that she wants the FBI to investigate her claims of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, raising further doubts about whether she and Kavanaugh will appear before the committee on Monday." Grassley still wants her to

IN AFTERMATH OF FLORENCE
Trump Visiting Carolinas Tomorrow
19 hours ago
THE LATEST
"It is not yet clear where in North Carolina Trump is expected visit. Trump is expected to visit Myrtle Beach while in South Carolina.
Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott of South Carolina are expected to fly on Air Force One with Trump."
Source:
TO OCT. 3
FEMA Postpones Trump Text Alert
20 hours ago
THE LATEST

FEMA, "which oversees the wireless emergency alert (WEA) system, announced that the test that had been scheduled for Thursday will be pushed back to Oct. 3, citing the 'ongoing response efforts to Hurricane Florence.'" The system, intended for national emergencies, allows the president to send a nationwide wireless message.

Source:
FORD CAN TESTIFY "IF SHE LIKES"
Graham Says Kavanaugh Vote on Wednesday
1 days ago
THE LATEST
REQUEST FROM CONGRESSIONAL REPUBLICANS
Trump Will Declassify Carter Page Documents
1 days ago
THE LATEST

"President Donald Trump on Monday ordered the immediate declassification of redacted materials in the FBI’s 2017 application to spy on Carter Page, as well as various FBI reports of interviews related to that matter including ones conducted with DOJ official Bruce Ohr." Sarah Sanders said he was doing so at the request of some members of Congress.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login