Eventually, aided with questions on foreign policy, Rubio recovered. But even with a strong finish, it’s hard to say he ended in a good place. Rubio didn’t just embarrass himself; he undermined the core argument for his campaign—that we overrate experience and underrate vision and resolve. And worse, it was on video: a short clip to show on news networks or cut into a negative advertisement. “Rubio’s repeat” will have a long life on daytime cable and late night comedy, an awkward, brutal, cringeworthy display of political failure.
Rubio needed a win on Saturday. He needed to show Republicans that Iowa wasn’t a fluke, that he could consolidate support and charge ahead of Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz. Instead, at best, he gave a mixed performance, with good answers overshadowed by one of the most uncomfortable moments of the entire Republican debate season.
It’s far too much to say that it will cost him the nomination. But it could push him down the ladder in New Hampshire and create renewed chaos in the nomination fight, as candidates such as Jeb Bush, Christie, and Gov. John Kasich rise, and Trump—largely unscathed—holds his spot on top.