Roger L. Simon

Can Rubio Recover?

What happened to Marco Rubio — the vaunted debater — at Saturday night’s debate (massacre)? Was he unmasked by that “bull in a New Jersey China shop” Chris Christie?

Hard to say, but I am with a huge standing room only crowd at McKelvie Intermediate School (yes, same place as Bush yesterday, but a lot more people) in affluent Bedford, NH, waiting for Marco and trying to find out. But unlike Jeb, Marco will be speaking from a thrust stage in the middle of the folks, which I think is smart because it’s more personal.

Rubio is still hanging in with a solid second place to Trump in the polls, but talk on the ground was he was poised to pull an upset here. Now, having been savaged by the pundits, he doesn’t look so good.

What happened? No question Marco tends to repeat himself. All candidates do, but he did so last night excessively in a way that is/was way too pre-planned.

But what I think was going on was what we call in Spanish an “ataque de nervios.”  Rubio simply got too tense under attack and went to his default position — reciting. He has to learn to deal with that. He also may have had a case of potential “frontrunneritis.” Too much, too soon.

Fortunately for him, and other Republicans, no one on the other side is near as good an attack dog as Christie. I do not, however, think the NJ governor helped himself much in the debate. He just hurt Rubio.

And, again talk on the ground, Rubio is/was far and away the only candidate with much chance of defeating Trump, the overall winner last night by default.  (Of course, “talk on the ground” can change as fast as the New Hampshire wind.)

In the spin room afterwards, Donald walked around like a matador who had just been awarded two ears and a tail, accompanied by his wife who would clearly be the most gorgeous first lady this side of Cleopatra’s Egypt. She probably has a shoe collection to rival Imelda Marcos’.

The program today began with a couple whose parents were Holocaust survivors. Their kids led the pledge of allegiance. No other speakers. Rubio entered with his family to a yuuuge standing ovation, introducing his wife and kids while joking about the debate.IMG_1134

Then he launched into his stump speech which played really well with the crowd. He doubled-down on his repeated (and criticized) debate statement about how Obama was purposefully changing America. It worked much better here.

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The tremendous response Rubio is getting in Bedford may or may not  mean he was not damaged that much in last night’s debate, but it should be heartening to his team.

Now I am off to a Cruz event and then to the Rubio Super Bowl party. (Rubio, a known football fan and sometimes player, currently has the crowd laughing, joking about the game.)

Since Djokovic and Federer aren’t playing, I’m hoping for an open bar.