Tell me why no one attacked John Kasich last night. He’s leading the governors/former governors in New Hampshire, and conventional wisdom holds that only one (or at most two) governors will survive the New Hampshire primary. He’s a bona threat to finish ahead of Marco Rubio (and this was true even before last night) and Ted Cruz. If he finishes a close second, he could even hurt Trump going forward.
My guess is that the top three candidates don’t see Kasich as a threat beyond New Hampshire, and thus didn’t see a compelling reason to attack him. The second tier candidates — guvs and ex-guv — don’t have much ammo with which to attack Kasich. He’s most vulnerable for seeming moderate. But the New Hampshire voters who might propel him into second place are themselves moderate. Plus, Kasich comes across as likable, so attacking him carries risk.
Tell me why Christie thought it was in his interest to savage Marco Rubio. His stated goal is to be the last governor standing. Thus, he needs to finish ahead of Kasich and Bush more than he needs to finish ahead of Rubio. Moreover, there was little chance that Kasich or Bush would play the heavy last night. By playing that role, Christie risked looking bad in comparison to the two candidates he most needs to finish ahead of.
My guess is that some combination of four considerations may have been at play. First, Christie doesn’t have much ammo to direct at Kasich and Bush.
Second, Christie has built his entire New Hampshire campaign around taking down Rubio. The strategy dates back to a time when Christie thought he could break through in the Granite State, not just survive it. As things developed, the claim that Rubio is “the boy in the bubble” became a central theme of Rubio’s campaign. So he needed to make it stick last night.
He was in about the same position as trial lawyer who promises the jury in his opening statement to that the evidence will show this or that. If the lawyer doesn’t deliver, his client is in trouble. If he does deliver, he may gain extra credit (and credibility).
Third, David Drucker in the Examiner speculates that Christie hopes to stem the tide of money flowing into the Rubio campaign. Christie needs more than that — he needs the money Rubio is getting to come to him. But maybe Christie can hang in for a few more weeks even with a tepid showing in New Hampshire if Rubio falters.
Fourth, it may be that Christie just can’t stand Rubio.
Tell me why Rubio wasn’t better prepared to handle Christie’s onslaught. As every commentator in American has said, Rubio knew it was coming.
My guess is that Rubio saw the attack coming and thought he was prepared. His response — that first term Senator Obama has been effective as president in advancing his leftist agenda — wasn’t a bad one. The problem was Rubio’s repetition of it.
Rubio probably didn’t anticipate that he and Christie would go back and forth on the issue so many times. If they hadn’t, there would have been no (or less) repetition.
The natural thing for Rubio to do once he saw he needed more material was to attack Christie. He has done so in the past, and effectively.
Rubio did attack Christie some. But my guess is that his game plan was to avoid going after the New Jersey governor hard. After all, Rubio was doing well in the polls while Christie was sinking. Why spend much time “punching down” and thereby risk losing likability points?
It may also be that Rubio fell in love with the “Obama knows what he’s doing” line. It has a certain elegance as a response to the inexperience claim, and hard core conservatives are receptive to it.
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We can speculate endlessly about what happened to Rubio last night. What we know is that he messed up. We also know that he has been stellar in debate after debate and was stellar in the second half of last night’s.
Even the best debaters sometimes lose the plot. Ted Cruz lost it in Iowa when Donald Trump seemed clearly to get the better of him on “New York values.”
Cruz’s standing in the polls dropped thereafter, but he was fortunate. There was one more Iowa debate and Trump boycotted it.
Rubio has no such luck, so he may well pay a price in New Hampshire. But I agree with John’s observation that “the campaign season will be going on, and remaining competitive, for quite a while.” For conservatives who have reservations about Trump and Cruz, Rubio is likely to remain the most promising (and before long one of the few) alternatives.
NOTE: This post is modified slightly from the original.