So… Rubio had a pretty bad night. Not much point in denying that. Some have been arguing that this is the first time Rubio’s been a big target, but that really isn’t true. From a comment I left the other day:

I’m not sure it won’t. That was a huge thing early on, but has become less so with time because he has been getting a lot of negative attention. R2R carpetbombed the Iowa airwaves, and elsewhere. Cruz has been taking shots and really ramped it up over the past week. Trump has taken shots. Kasich’s people took a shot. Talk radio has taken shots. His views on immigration came up in the most unflattering way possible in the last debate, and was brought up in previous debates (in one of which he was Target #1), and he’s still standing.

So while I’m not-at-all sure it won’t happen, there is quite a bit of reason to believe that the obvious liabilities have already played out. There may be some as-yet unfound non-obvious liabilities, but that’s an unknown unknown at this point.

That notwithstanding, those with the perspective that Rubio was suddenly vulnerable going into the debate and now he’s going to get grilled will understandably feel a sense of vindication. My own perspective is that there have been a lot of attacks on Rubio, but Christie is the first one that managed a direct hit. And more to the point, this is the first time that Rubio failed to evade. That’s a pretty big deal. How big of a deal? We’ll know on Tuesday. But it’s hard to imagine that it won’t at least hurt the momentum he’d been generating with endorsements and the Establishment Lane race. While I thought the betting markets were overestimating him, he was the only one of the big three with the chance of putting this away pretty early, and that chance appears to be gone. It’s more likely that he’s going to need to grind it out. But, pending New Hampshire vote tallies, he still has a pretty good chance of doing it. Right now the probabilities I have on the back of my napkin are Cruz and Rubio at 1-in-3 and Trump at 1-in-5. I’d expected to adjust Rubio up after New Hampshire, but now I am expecting to adjust him down (and Cruz up, probably).

The only upshots for Rubio are fortuitous timing (in a way) and a potential to demonstrate solid support if it exists. In the former case, the Superbowl is today and a lot of the focus will be there today and tomorrow and the election is Tuesday. Also, because it was on a Saturday Night, SNL didn’t get a crack at him. In the latter case, if he comes out of New Hampshire looking unfazed by this, then that will be more to his benefit than if the disaster had not occurred. It would indicate that his support has some depth, and that he can weather mistakes.

I don’t believe the upshots will outweigh the bad. I’m looking beyond the primary here and to the general election. We’ve had a vague sense of what his weaknesses as a candidate are, but this crystalized the image. A lot of critics are going with Rubio-as-a-robot, which I actually think is wrong. Rubio comes across as warm in a way that HRC and Mitt don’t, especially. But it does point to a concern I had earlier but that he alleviated in earlier performances: That he’s an empty suit. A Ken Doll. A wind-up doll of sorts. This solidifies those concerns and if this is indicative of where he will be in November, that’s not good for the GOP. If Hillary Clinton ever finds her groove, Rubio will go down in the same way that Thomas Dewey did: As the candidate dismissed as the groom on a wedding cake.

So, without further ado, going into New Hampshire, here is how the race looks for each of the candidates:

Marco Rubio
1st Place: He’s the nominee.
2nd Place: His odds improve considerably if he has some separation here (as looked more likely before the debate than after). Especially if Cruz is #3. If he’s a weak #3, the road gets narrower with more potential for a fourth candidate making things more difficult for him. The key is separation, by either five or more points or Cruz standing in between him and Jeb/Kasich/Christie.
3rd Place: If behind Cruz, he needs a good debate performance ahead of South Carolina but can rebound. If behind Kasich, Christie, or especially Jeb, his odds decrease considerably.
4th Place: He can win, but the path is very narrow. Who got third? That’s the question.
5th Place: He’s done.

Ted Cruz
1st Place: He’s going to be very difficult to beat.
2nd Place: Unless behind Rubio, he’s in very good shape. Possibly to being a 50/50 proposition.
3rd Place: He’s still in good shape. My odds for him go up.
4th Place: He’s still in the race, but needs to rebound in South Carolina.
5th Place: he’s still in the race, but must do well in South Carolina.

Donald Trump
1st Place: This is expected. His odds improve, but not greatly. It’s South Carolina where he is going to need to prove himself.
2nd Place: He’s not done, but his path becomes narrower.
3rd Place: He’s done.
4th Place: He’s done.
5th Place: He’s done.

Jeb Bush
1st Place: I don’t even know.
2nd Place: Unless Rubio is close behind, he’s probably slayed Rubio and become the third viable candidate.
3rd Place: He’s hurt Rubio a great deal and we’re probably looking at a four-man race with good implications for Cruz (and Trump), or a three-man race with Rubio dead.
4th Place: Not enough, but he’ll probably fight on. Especially if he beats Rubio.
5th Place: He will be under some very intense pressure to drop out.

John Kasich
1st Place: I don’t even know.
2nd Place: He will probably be a factor in the race in the short-term, but it’s unclear he has long-term potential. Once NH is exposed as the one-off it probably he, he’s likely to become an afterthought before Super Tuesday.
3rd Place: If he’s ahead of Rubio, probably a short-term factor. If behind, probably not.
4th Place: He’s done.
5th Place: He’s done.

Chris Christie
1st Place: I don’t even know.
2nd Place: Probably a factor in the short-term, slightly more long-term factor potential than Kasich.
3rd Place: If he’s ahead of Rubio, probably a short-term factor. If behind, probably not.
4th Place: He’s done.
5th Place: He’s done.
Note: I am a bit down on Christie this cycle. But I think more than anyone else, he has set himself up to potentially be a viable candidate in 2020.

Category: Newsroom

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