Excerpts and links from a variety of perspectives on the February 6th, 2016 #GOPDebate in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Where do we even begin? The rhetorical shit show that is the GOP primary took another interesting turn this weekend. Fresh of his loss in Iowa, which was hailed as a victory by many including the Senator himself, Marco Rubio went into this debate needing a strong showing and instead had his worst night of the campaign. Don’t just take my word for it – more than half the reactions excerpted and linked here are specifically about how bad Senator Rubio flubbed the debate. What tickles me is that it wasn’t even Trump, Cruz, Bush, or Kasich – candidates who have something to gain by taking Rubio down a notch – but Christie, the hopeless blowhard who has sold his soul (and approval ratings at home) in order to win zero 2016 GOP primaries, who humiliated Rubio.
Before getting into those links, first take a moment to enjoy the candidate pile up that preceded Christie’s pile driving of Rubio:
Seriously, watch that whole video. It is only two minutes and there is something to laugh about the entire time. I’m not sure what my favorite part is, but it’s either Jeb’s patting Trump on the arm or Governor Kasich basically being forgotten about. 👍
Honestly, I have never before experienced the sustained schadenfreude that this GOP primary has provided. I hope it isn’t rotting my brain like some kind of mental refined sugar, because it is oh so sweet.
Rubio’s Epic Fail
The big story of the night was Christie’s attack on Rubio early in the evening, which Rubio did not handle well. Mostly the story is told as Rubio flailing, with Christie just sort of being the guy who was talking to him when it happened. I think Christie ought to get at least some credit, since he has been relentlessly plugging his prosecutorial skills, for displaying those skills in his attack on Rubio. Any other guy up there would have pivoted back to his own talking points, but Christie really just kept on it. I don’t usually include video clips in these posts, but this seems worth posting just so all the excerpts have some context:
David French wondered if Rubio even realized what was happening:
Marco Rubio’s already-famous exchange with Chris Christie was indeed a brutal moment. I still can’t believe that Rubio went back to the same talking point right after Christie called him on it. Watching it real-time, I honestly wondered if Rubio forgot what he just said. When he started to do the same thing a third time, I couldn’t believe my ears. Christie wasn’t masterful — not by any means — Rubio just served him the worst kind of hanging curve.
Tim Alberta & Alexis Levinson note that, even if Rubio and some viewers were confused, the Senator’s detractors were quick to seize on the moment:
It appeared simply that Rubio had forgotten which lines he’d already delivered; to viewers at home, the repetitive nature of his remarks must have made it seem as if the television had been rewound. The episode gave fuel to critics who complain that Rubio is robotic on the stump, sparking instant ridicule on social media and among rival campaigns. The Twitter handle @RubioGlitch was created. Democratic groups coined the term “RubioBot.” Correct the Record, a pro-Hillary Clinton group, immediately produced a video, “Rubio on Repeat,” for viral consumption.
Molly Ball wonders how much harm Rubio did to his campaign:
Now the question is how serious the damage will be for Rubio, who had seemed on the brink of rallying his party behind him as the one candidate who could, as he frequently put it, “unite this party and unite this country.” The voters of New Hampshire are late deciders; at Republican events in the last couple of days, I’ve met many who said they were keeping their options open, including many who said they were counting on the debate to help them make up their minds. Would the debate, already being spun as a disaster for Rubio by his opponents, seem as awful to them as it did to the pundits?
Josh Marshall thinks it is the media coverage of the exchange, rather than the debate moment itself, that is the most dangerous for Rubio:
Political obsessives usually over-estimate the impact of the things they obsess over. And to me it’s not clear how much immediate effect Rubio’s stumble will have. I doubt many confirmed supporters will abandon him over it. For more damaging is that he is now facing two and a half days of press and campaign mockery rather than two and a half days of press cheering about inevitability. He was not a frontrunner needing to avoid a mistake. He was someone who was behind but appeared to be making rapid progress. I think this may seriously blunt what seemed to be a rush of voters in his direction.
The deadliest thing for a politician is always becoming an object of mockery and ridicule. That’s what Rubio’s facing during a critical two day period.
Dara Lind is skeptical that this will impact primary voter support for the Senator:
It would be foolish to say that Rubio’s disastrous debate performance tonight will doom his campaign. It would be doubly foolish to say it will hurt him in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.
Lots of voters just don’t care about who does well in debates — which is something Rubio knows better than anyone. Rubio was, by acclamation, the winner of the first few Republican debates. And it did not help him in the polls at all.
But it does hurt Rubio with some other folks:
But debates matter to some political professionals. They matter to some donors. And they matter to the media.
And political professionals, donors, and the media matter to Marco Rubio.
The fact that Rubio “won” early debates to begin with was decided by the media. It didn’t give him a polling boost, but it kept his campaign credible for a while.
And his strong early debate performances, especially compared to Jeb Bush’s conspicuously lackluster ones, helped start momentum toward designating Rubio, not Bush, the most credible “establishment lane” candidate — including a flight of Bush donors toward Rubio starting at the end of 2015.
Jonathan Bernstein, in a feat of contrarianism, is so skeptical of the damage that he wonders if there could be an upside:
It’s even possible that the extra publicity (if there is some) will help Rubio, just as Trump was sometimes helped in the polls just by capturing attention. The Florida senator has moved to a solid but relatively small lead for second place in New Hampshire polls, and has been gaining on Trump.
Nate Silver explains why it is important to separate the media’s assessment of Rubio’s night from the voter assessment:
But a lot of caution is also in order. Pundits haven’t misgauged the impact of a debate since … well, since only about a week ago, when the “smart take” was that Trump had won the final Iowa debate by not having shown up for it, and that Ted Cruz had a poor evening. Instead, Cruz won the Iowa caucuses a few days later, with Trump in second with a vote share well below where polls had projected him.
As I wrote after the previous debate, political reporters are in the “fog of war” phase of the campaign where our reactions aren’t necessarily good matches for those of voters at home. Some of the reason we reporters thought Rubio’s answer was so awful is because it confirmed some of our gossip about Rubio, namely that he tends to give pat, repetitive answers. But we tend to be more sensitive about that stuff, because we watch every debate from start to finish, and then we see lots of the candidates’ stump speeches and town halls on top of it. There’s a fine line between a candidate who seems stilted and repetitive and one who seems “on message” instead.
Jamelle Bouie thinks the damage is probably real, especially in how it fits into the broader context of the GOP primary:
Rubio needed a win on Saturday. He needed to show Republicans that Iowa wasn’t a fluke, that he could consolidate support and charge ahead of Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz. Instead, at best, he gave a mixed performance, with good answers overshadowed by one of the most uncomfortable moments of the entire Republican debate season.
It’s far too much to say that it will cost him the nomination. But it could push him down the ladder in New Hampshire and create renewed chaos in the nomination fight, as candidates such as Jeb Bush, Christie, and Gov. John Kasich rise, and Trump—largely unscathed—holds his spot on top.
That right there, the “renewed chaos in the nomination fight,” is where my schadenfreude is the most intense.
David Weigel points out that in addition to being overly rote, Rubio’s talking point was also poorly written:
One final problem with Rubio’s answer: You don’t “dispel with” something. You either dispel it or you dispense with it.
— daveweigel (@daveweigel) February 7, 2016
Bringing us back to planet Real Life, where real people face real impacts based on the rhetoric and policies of these loud, well-funded reactionaries, Lucas Grindley provides a detailed run down of just how much of a hater Marco Rubio is, despite his feigning of a moderate tone:
During the debate on Saturday, Rubio took the usual bashing from opponents for his former immigration plan, when he was part of the so-called Gang of 8 that passed a compromise bill through the Senate only to have it stall in the House. New Jersey governor Chris Christie said, for example, that Rubio had failed as a leader because he abandoned his own proposal.
But people forget that Rubio threatened to kill the bill most vocally when Democrats sought inclusion for binational same-sex couples.
“If this bill has in it something that gives gay couples immigration rights and so forth, it kills the bill,” he said on conservative radio in June 2013. “I’m gone, I’m off it, and I’ve said that repeatedly. And I don’t think that’s going to happen, and it shouldn’t happen. This is already a difficult enough issue as it is.”
More recently, not only did Rubio support the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” that passed in Indiana last year (only to be repealed after businesses were outraged), he has signed a pledgeto pass a national version called the First Amendment Defense Act. Activists refer to these as “license to discriminate” laws.
Other people were there, other things happened
Yes there was a whole debate with several other candidates and many other questions asked. Of course we aren’t quite done with the Rubio flub yet, but just because Josh Voorhees thinks it is the main reason why Governor Christie won the night:
Christie was at his strongest when clashing with Rubio, but he also hit his marks when he wasn’t on the offensive. He handled a question about the nation’s heroin epidemic well—a problem particularly important in New Hampshire—and played relatively nice with Govs. Jeb Bush and John Kasich, a posture that only underscored his argument that governors are better prepared to be president than one-term senators such as Rubio or Sen. Ted Cruz.
Franklin Foer, in what must either be an inside joke or sponsored content from the Bush campaign, believes that Jeb could be on the way up:
The Republican establishment was on the brink of immolating Bush for wasting its money and cutting such a pathetic figure. But donors will hold off cashiering Bush, even if he finishes in the middle of the New Hampshire pack. Unlike his center-right rivals, he has the war chest and organization to sustain a national campaign. And despite the base’s apparently conflicted feelings about his family’s dynasty, Bush is the best ideological fit for his party. He hasn’t transgressed any of its core concerns, never flip-flopped on the social issue or deviated from its devotion to the free-market faith.
Foer is, I guess, completely unaware of Bush’s positions on Common Core and immigration reform, which may not be core concerns of the GOP donor class but they are among the core concerns of GOP primary voters. Even for a #slatepitch, Foer’s piece is absurd. But I digress!
Josh Marshall provides a full rundown of the debate here, and flags a singular moment that went unmentioned by many commentators:
Cruz started the debate taking a lot of hits, damaging hits, over whatever happened with him and Carson at the beginning of the Iowa Caucus. But over time, he seemed to fade into the background. For Ted Cruz, it was a very low key performance. I get the sense that his campaign saw that he did not come off well in the final Iowa debate and worked with him to tone down his demeanor. They may also have calculated that he doesn’t have to go for a win or even a terribly strong showing in New Hampshire. He just needs to do passably and get on to South Carolina. He had a rare humanizing moment describing his half-sister’s life of addiction. Perhaps his first humanizing moment.
David Graham thinks the night was basically a flip of the race, but that we won’t know if it was momentary or had a lasting effect until the New Hampshire primary vote on Tuesday:
What does it all mean? Saturday night’s debate was the revenge of the establishment governors—Christie, Bush, and Kasich. Those three have been battling for a “lane” in the nomination battle—against each other, for the one spot (at most) for someone like them; against Rubio, still trying to lock up the establishment support; and against the outsiders Cruz and Trump. Can the debate change their fortunes? It wasn’t a great night for the Trump-Rubio-Cruz triumvirate leading the polls, but will that stall Rubio’s rise? Will it accelerate Trump’s slide? And will it vault any of the governors into the top tier? We’ll find out Tuesday.
Dylan Matthews at Vox declared 2 winners (Chris Christie, Donald Trump) and 3 losers (Marco Rubio, the moderators, and Ben Carson) from the debate, saying of Carson:
Not only is he polling in the single digits in both New Hampshire and South Carolina, he didn’t even go on stage at the right time. C’mon man.
The next reax post will be following the 2016 New Hampshire primary vote, which is on Tuesday, February 9th.