Fair amount of buzz for this clip among Rubio fans on social media last night and this morning, thanks to a boost from Erick Erickson. Erickson offers it as proof that no “robot” could connect with an audience at length this way, which is fair enough. But Ross Douthat is right too: What you’re hearing here is someone who’s spent no small part of his life around people who aren’t conservative and who has them in mind in his message. If Rubio really does enjoy an electability advantage, that’s partly where it comes from.
Trey Gowdy, who’s on Team Rubio, said yesterday that even a strong third-place finish in South Carolina would be acceptable after people were writing him off after New Hampshire. That seems increasingly likely, especially if Politico’s account of the mood among his crowds there is accurate:
After a few listless days on the trail in New Hampshire after the debate, Rubio has regained his energy, confidence — and sense of humor. In describing his student loans, only paid off since he wrote his book, Rubio on Sunday delivered his standard laugh line that the autobiography is “now available in paperback.” Then, as he rarely did before, he broke the fourth wall and told the audience a secret about the performance mechanics of his routine.
“The press people have heard that joke — it works, it always works, that’s why I keep saying it!” he quipped, smiling wide as if to alert the crowd that the punch line was imminent. “If something is true and it works, you should keep saying it over and over again, right?”
The spontaneous mix of laughter and thunderous cheers that erupted wasn’t that of an audience politely humoring a candidate — it was the sound of a connection being sealed…
Beyond the unpredictability of the news cycle, the dynamic within the GOP nomination battle is also setting up well for Rubio here. Christie — Rubio’s team admits he “got in Marco’s head” — is now out of the race. Jeb Bush, who kept himself alive by finishing just ahead of Rubio in New Hampshire, is stuck in single digits in public and private polls of South Carolina GOP primary voters; and his decision to enlist his brother, former President George W. Bush, to campaign on his behalf in Charleston on Monday evening only further crystallizes the choice for establishment Republicans as a generational one — exactly as Rubio himself frames it.
We have yet to see a post-debate poll of SC this week from a top-tier pollster, but take a peek at the numbers we do have right now. Rubio and Cruz tied at 18. Rubio and Cruz tied at 14. Rubio leads Cruz 14/12 (and, er, both trail Kasich). In several other polls he’s only four or five points behind. My guess about South Carolina after Rubio’s New Hampshire disaster was that Trump and Cruz would finish with 10 points of distance between them and the rest of the pack, but that seems unlikely now for Cruz. Which, arguably, is good news for Trump: The better Rubio does this week, the more the conservative vote will be evenly split between Rubio and Cruz. What’s less good for him is that Rubio stands a small chance of finishing second here, which would set him up for Nevada, where he’s strong, and would damage Cruz, whose stronghold is supposed to be southern evangelical states like SC. If Trump’s destined for a one-on-one race with someone, I think he’d much prefer it to be with Cruz, who’s less acceptable to center-righties and moderates, than with Rubio. In fact, I wonder if maybe that awareness is helping Rubio this week among undecideds, that the hour’s getting late to stop Trump and that if Rubio flames out in SC he’s likely done. Jeb fans and Kasich fans are suckers to stick with those two, who have no chance of winning, instead of hedging their bets against Trump by backing Rubio this week. We’ll see.