Did the New Hampshire Debate Just Kill Marco Rubio’s Momentum?


From Jeff Dunetz at Lidblog

Call it the end of Marcomentum, the revenge of the governors, or even Chris Christie channels Donald Trump, but within the first five minutes of last night’s ABC News GOP debate [score]Marco Rubio[/score] was a deer in the headlights and the New Jersey governor was the new GOP mean guy.

There were three overall winners of the GOP debate: John Kasich,  Jeb Bush,  and Chris Christie . A more subdued Donald Trump may have won by not losing. Marco Rubio was the big loser, and to a lesser extent, Ben Carson and [score]Ted Cruz[/score] didn’t have his best night either.

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In terms of time spoken, Cruz and Rubio dominated the night. Trump was 3rd, followed by Christie and Bush. Surprisingly based on the impression he gave at the debate, Kasich spoke for a minute and a half behind the other governors and way behind the leaders. Ben Carson was a non-factor in time spoken as well as content.

NH Debate Times

Rubio’s initial confrontation with Chris Christie was very bad for the Florida senator. Although he was strong afterwards, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and Marco Rubio’s battle with Christie about experience may have put a brick wall in front of his momentum. This first exchange between Christie and Rubio was reminiscent of an old Saturday Night Live routine where Garrett Morris played fictional NY Met, Chico Escuela, whose answer to every question was,” baseball been berry, berry good to me.” Marco’s stock answer was Obama knows exactly what he’s doing.

It started with a question to Rubio about some of Christie’s recent comments about his lack of experience.  Rubio’s answer included:

And let’s dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. Barack Obama is undertaking a systematic effort to change this country, to make America more like the rest of the world.

Rubio’s line about Obama knowing what he is doing is true. During his 2008 campaign over and over Obama said, “fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” If Rubio reminded the audience of that Obama line, it may have worked better. But he didn’t, and the New Jersey governor hit him back hard with a warning that electing Rubio would be as bad as the election of Obama:

And the fact is — the fact when you talk about the Hezbollah Sanctions Act that you list as one of your accomplishments you just did, you weren’t even there to vote for it. That’s not leadership, that’s truancy.

And the fact is that what we need to do — what we need to have in this country is not to make the same mistake we made eight years ago. The fact is it does matter when you have to make decisions and be held accountable for them. It does matter when the challenges don’t come on a list of a piece of paper of what to vote yes or no every day, but when the problems come in from the people that you serve. 

Christie Rubio Jeb BushI like Marco Rubio, and he’s a smart person and a good guy, but he simply does not have the experience to be president of the United States and make these decisions. We’ve watched it happen, everybody. For the last seven years, the people of New Hampshire are smart. Do not make the same mistake again.

Marco’s response hit Christie on New Jersey’s credit rating being downgraded nine times, and if he stopped there it may have deflected the Jersey governor’s attacks. But he continued with, “Let’s dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing…” for the second time.

Christie slammed him again, saying in part: You see, everybody, I want the people at home to think about this. That’s what Washington, D.C. does. The drive-by shot at the beginning with incorrect and incomplete information and then the memorized 25-second speech that is exactly what his advisers gave him.

Ouch that had to hurt, but it didn’t hurt enough because the Florida senator repeated himself for a third time. His answer included:

Here’s the bottom line. This notion that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing is just not true. He knows exactly what he’s doing.

Christie came back with, “There it is. There it is. The memorized 25-second speech. There it is, everybody.”

Not only did Rubio keep falling into the same Chris Christie trap, but he reinforced what people have attacked him for– an inability to go off message. Christie seemed mean during the exchange and may not have helped himself, but he hurt Rubio, mercilessly.

Rubio rebounded a bit in the second half of the GOP debate when it turned to foreign policy, and gave an answer on abortion sure to appeal to the Republican base:

Here’s what I find outrageous. There has been five Democratic debates. The media has not asked them a single question on abortion and on abortion, the Democrats are extremists. Why doesn’t the media ask Hillary Clinton why she believes that all abortion should be legal, even on the due date of that unborn child.

Why don’t they ask Hillary Clinton why she believe that partial- birth abortion, which is a gruesome procedure that has been outlawed in this country, she thinks that’s a fundamental right. They are the extremists when it comes to the issue of abortion and I can’t wait to expose them in a general election.

The question is, did Rubio’s strong second half make up for the dreadful exchange with Christie? The answer here is—doubtful.

If Jeb Bush was as strong at the beginning of the campaign as he was last night, he might have a chance at the nomination. He appeared knowledgeable and likable. His story about the guy the VA said died (but continues to be much alive and is voting for Bush) was delightfully funny.

Bush was the only one on the stage who attacked Trump. That attack based on eminent domain was excellent.

rubio-facepalmBush: The difference — the difference between eminent domain for public purpose — as Donald said, roads and infrastructure, pipelines and all that — that’s for public purpose. But what Donald Trump did was use eminent domain to try to take the property of an elderly woman on the strip in Atlantic City. That is not public purpose, that is down right wrong. And here’s the problem with that. The problem was, it was to tear down — it was to tear down — it was to tear down the house…

Trump: Jeb wants to be — he wants to be a tough guy tonight. I didn’t take the property.

Bush: And the net result was — you tried.

Trump: I didn’t take the property.

Bush: And you lost in the court.

Trump: The woman ultimately didn’t want to do that. I walked away.

Bush: That is not true. And the simple fact is to turn this into a limousine parking lot for his casinos is a not public use. And in Florida, based on what we did, we made that impossible. It is part of our Constitution. That’s the better approach. That is the conservative approach.

When Bush tried to interrupt Trump’s response, the billionaire told him to shut up, drawing boos from the crowd.

Eminent domain is a big issue in New Hampshire, and showing Trump as bullying an old lady was effective. Bush may have helped himself in the debate, but in the end in a year where people are angry at the establishment, Jeb Bush’s campaign is still weighed down by his last name and the fact that he is the most establishment candidate in the GOP field.

The Ohio governor John Kasich has been growing in the New Hampshire polls (but still only at 12%) and the fact he had his best GOP debate, had to help.

Kaisch tried to set himself up as the best equipped to bring people together, “We have to solve problems in America by coming together, Republicans and Democrats, Americans first, party and ideology second.”

He also presented himself as someone who had the knowledge of how to get things done fast:

So, anybody who is here tonight, if I get elected president, head out tomorrow and buy a seat belt, because there’s going to be so much happening in the first 100 days, it’s going to make your head spin. We’re going to move America forward. I promise you. We’re going to move us forward.

Kasich gave answers that would certainly appeal to Granite State Republicans, but will they play elsewhere? The fact that he expanded Medicaid may be a nonstarter, especially after New Hampshire when the primaries move to the southern states.


Read the Rest of Jeff Dunetz’ Analysis at LidBlog

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