But Rubio did quite well. He attacked the media in a way that drew applause from the conservatives in the debate audience, and he deployed sentiment and smarm in a way that really could work in general-election politics. I think Jonathan Last of The Weekly Standard has a point:
... what should scare Hillary Clinton is how effortless Rubio is even with throwaway lines, like “I’m against anything that’s bad for my mother.”What has the chattering class talking, of course, is Rubio's counterattack on Jeb Bush, a guy the chatterers continue to believe has a chance to win this race -- or at least they believed that until last night. (I think Jeb lost the race long ago, but he retained the ability to gum up the works for an actually electable mainstream candidate -- probably Rubio. I don't think that's changed, because Jeb won't quit and he still has money.) You know the moment that got insiders' hearts racing:
Mr. Rubio has missed more votes than any other senator this year. Mr. Bush ... blasted Mr. Rubio over his work ethic....Rubio got the better of this because he took the punch and hit back. But it occurs to me that maybe we've been looking at this story all wrong, and we still are. We saw Senate absenteeism as a vulnerability for Rubio, and now we see it as a vulnerability he's dealt with.
“Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term -- you should be showing up to work,” Mr. Bush said. “I mean, literally, the Senate, what is it, like a French workweek? You get like three days where you have to show up?”
Mr. Rubio hit back forcefully, noting that Mr. Bush has said he is modeling his campaign after Senator John McCain’s in 2008, and that Mr. McCain missed many votes in the chamber during that run. And he attributed the criticism to the fact that Mr. Bush is struggling in the polls.
“The only reason you’re doing it now is because we’re running for the same position and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you,” Mr. Rubio said.
But what if it's an advantage for him that he's blowing off his Senate job and letting the country know that he loathes the Senate?
Think about who's been dominating the Republican race: two candidates who've never held office. Just being in government at all, in the present or the past, is regarded by Republican voters as a mark of shame, even for an insubordinate delinquent like Ted Cruz. It's a sign that you've had a chance to establish the Wingnut Utopia and you've failed. (That's what right-wingers actually believe.)
So when Rubio embraced his distaste for the Senate, maybe some GOP voters decided that he hates government as much as they do. Maybe this helps Rubio.
I can't tell. And with regard to the debates, I still don't understand how they work. I don't understand why Ben Carson and Donald Trump always seem to come out of them stronger, no matter how poorly they perform. I expect that to be true again. I expect Rubio and Cruz to get poll bumps, though I suspect they won't last any longer than the bump Carly Fiorina got from the last debate. But I really don't know.