Despite extraordinary financial investment, a media-driven narrative that his third place finish in Iowa was a victory, and enthusiastic backing from the beltway punditry class, Marco Rubio cratered in New Hampshire.
Following his distant and disappointing third place showing in Iowa, Rubio finished in an even more distant and more disappointing fifth place in the Granite State.
In the days leading up to the vote, Rubio took hits on multiple fronts, which clearly rattled the young Senator and his painstakingly scripted campaign.
One of the biggest hits came from conservative living legend and grassroots heroine, Phyllis Schlafly.
On Friday evening—prior to Rubio’s now-infamous debate “glitch”—Schlafly issued a 15-page memo outlining Rubio’s “betrayal” of the conservative movement and his repeated “deceptions” during his Gang of Eight push.
Schlafly’s report presaged the next blow awaiting Rubio by demonstrating the Senator’s dependence upon carefully groomed and thoroughly repetitive rehearsed answers to questions. In her memo, Schlafly points out that many of Rubio’s memorized Gang of Eight talking points were outright falsehoods that seemed fabricated in order to dupe conservatives.
Schlafly writes, “Rubio’s entire career rests on the fact that no one will question his syrupy scripted bites and homeroom-president style rehearsed speeches”
During Saturday night’s debate, Chris Christie exploited this weakness. Rubio’s televised short-circuit meltdown prompted viewers to label him “Marcobot,” “Marco Robio,” and “RubioBot.”
Even after the debate, Rubio’s programming continued to glitch—including one bizarre moment at a campaign event in Nashua, New Hampshire in which he repeated one of his scripted lines twice—back to back—in full view of the media.
Yet underpinning both Schlafly and Christie’s attacks against Rubio was a long-term strategy implemented by Sen. Jeff Sessions focused on the critical issues of trade and immigration.
While Rubio has been Congress’s most aggressive champion of open borders trade and immigration policies, Sessions has been Congress’s leading voice of opposition to the donor-class’s globalist agenda.
At least 92% of the GOP electorate oppose Sen. Rubio’s desire to expand immigration levels, according to Pew polling data. Similarly, by a nearly five-to-one margin, Republican voters believe that so-called free trade deals lower wages rather than raise them.
Sessions warned New Hampshire voters: “I don’t think a Republican candidate should be running for President that says they’re for amnesty, for even more immigration, and for trade agreements that don’t serve the national interest,” Sessions declared.
Sessions described Rubio’s support for granting citizenship to illegal immigrants as disqualifying, stating: “Supporting citizenship for illegal immigrants should be disqualifying. Just like we can’t have a GOP nominee who supports Obamacare, we can’t have a GOP nominee who supports amnesty. Our priority needs to be helping get unemployed Americans back to work, not replacing them with lower-wage labor from abroad.”
While the media has allowed Sen. Rubio to go eight consecutive debates without ever being asked if he stands by his endorsement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Sessions has relentlessly pushed candidates to make their positions on the issues that matter to American voters known.
For instance, on Friday, prior to the ABC debate, Sessions issued a questionnaire for candidates—consisting of five straightforward questions related to immigration, trade and crime—so that voters could know where their candidates stand on these critical issues.
Under normal political rules, following his dismal performance in New Hampshire, Rubio’s candidacy would seem purely ceremonial at this point. In the last 40 years, no candidate has won the Republican Party nomination without winning Iowa or New Hampshire.
Yet Rubio not only failed to win either state, but he trailed in third place in Iowa and fifth place in New Hampshire.
By contrast, in 2012 Mitt Romney finished in 2nd place in Iowa and 1st place in New Hampshire. In 2008, John McCain finished 4th in Iowa, but 1st in New Hampshire. In 2000, George W. Bush finished 1st in Iowa and 2nd in New Hampshire. In 1996, Bob Dole finished 1st in Iowa and 2nd in New Hampshire. In 1988, George H.W. Bush finished 3rd in Iowa and 1st in New Hampshire.
As Vox recently noted, “In the past 60 years, no eventual nominee finished worse than second in New Hampshire. (Note: Two weren’t in the race when the New Hampshire primary happened — Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and Estes Kefauver in 1952.) That means that, much like the Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire is more about who won’t be president than who will.”
However, the Party establishment may still be able to resurrect Rubio’s failing campaign. Last night, for example, Fox News’ Megyn Kelly seemed to try to frame Rubio’s disastrous fifth place finish as a “nail-biter” race to third:
It has been an all-out nail-biter between @tedcruz, @JebBush and @marcorubio to figure out who’s placing in the third position. #NHPrimary
— Megyn Kelly (@megynkelly) February 10, 2016
Indeed, given Rubio’s enormous backing from the Party establishment and the donor-class, the normal political rules do not seem to apply to Sen. Rubio.
For instance, Sen. Rubio’s signature legislative accomplishment in the Senate was partnering with Barack Obama to develop an immigration agenda opposed by an overwhelming majority of the Republican electorate. Rubio continues to hold a view on immigration that is opposed by at least 92% of the GOP electorate.
Under normal political rules, it may perhaps be hard to envision such a candidate being considered for the position of the Party’s nominee. For instance, it is hard to imagine the Democratic Party selecting as its nominee a candidate who campaigns on wanting to repeal Obamacare or aggressively opposes some other core tenet of the Party’s progressive base.
The establishment’s effort to buoy Rubio’s candidacy perhaps demonstrates the extent to which the Republican Party’s leadership is donor-driven rather than voter-driven. While Democrat donors represent the interests of their base, Republican donors seem to actively undermine the interests of their base.
For instance, while the media has highlighted the similarities between Rubio and Obama, there is a key difference between the two which often goes undiscussed. Namely, while Obama represented the core views of his base, Rubio represents the interests of his Party’s donor base, not its voter base.
The Republican Party’s allegiance to championing its donors’ interests–which, in many instances, seem to directly contradict the interests of its voters–may perhaps explain the results of last night’s exit polls. Specifically, the exit polling data showed that while only about one in seven Democrats feel “betrayed” by their party, half of Republican voters feel “betrayed” by theirs.
It remains to be seen whether the Party’s elites and establishment media will be able to resurrect Sen. Rubio’s candidacy. However, as Nate Silver has previously observed, the Party establishment’s candidate may be the beneficiary of “a lot of second and third chances” because the Party holds the “power to set the rules of engagement and strategically encourage winnowing of the field.”
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