Marco Rubio’s GOP debate performance Saturday night (February 13) has not been the most discussed topic this morning, but it should be. For a candidate taken down by a bottom of the pack governor in the last debate, things could not have gone better for Rubio last night.
Let’s first look at the reason for many to likely have low expectations for Rubio’s Saturday performance.
After a stunning second place finish in Iowa, many expected Marco Rubio to vault to the top three in New Hampshire. But a stunningly bad debate performance egged on by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had the opposite result. Rubio was caught repeating the same lines over and over and, instead of challenging Christie’s assertion, Rubio instead repeated the line again.
As a result of the poor GOP debate performance, Marco Rubio finished in the middle of the pack behind Trump, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
During his concession speech in New Hampshire, Marco Rubio had what appeared to be an unscripted moment and blamed himself for the poor results, not his staff and volunteers on the ground in the granite state, according to the Washington Post.
“I want you to understand something… Our disappointment tonight is not on you; it’s on me. It’s on me. I did not — I did not do well on Saturday night, so listen to this: That will never happen again. That will never happen again.”
In another Post story, the newspaper called last night’s GOP debate performance by Rubio “a strong comeback.”
“Rubio also had a strong comeback debate. He ably defended his child tax credit, making the night’s only pitch to shore up families. (‘Parenting is the most important job any of us will ever have. Family formation is the most important thing in society. So what my tax plan does, is it does create – especially for working families, an additional Child Tax Credit.’) His shining moment however came when he reeled off the list of Cruz’s ‘lies’ — reversing himself on immigration, telling Iowa voters Carson had dropped out of the race, and insisting Rubio didn’t fight against Planned Parenthood funding. In essence it was his Chris Christie moment, leaving Cruz back on his heels. He went a long way toward debunking the false narrative that he is robotic. He was at ease in explaining his immigration plans, stressing his emphasis on border security first. In his closing argument he came back to values again, observing, ‘Wrong is now considered right, and right is now considered wrong.’ “
The question is whether the strong debate performance, what the Post deemed his “comeback,” will translate into a strong finish that will vault the Senator into the other southern states beyond South Carolina. Super Tuesday is March 1, with large states like Virginia and small states like Wyoming voting.
A look at the poll numbers shows Rubio in third place behind Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, but nothing has come out since last night’s debate. So, it remains to be seen how the debate performance will impact him. (Real Clear Politics’ average of polls shows Trump leading South Carolina with 37 percent, Cruz with 17 percent, Rubio with 14.3 percent, Kasich at 10.5 percent, Bush at 10 percent, and Dr. Ben Carson at 4.5 percent.)
Of course, while the Post said last night was Rubio’s “Christie moment,” Christie came in low in the final tallies and subsequently dropped out of the presidential race. No one is saying Rubio will drop out, but it shows that one strong debate cannot always right the ship.
[Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images]