It’s hard to say what people expect of Rubio now, but he’s in a pretty precarious position. Even before Saturday’s debate, Rubio’s hold on second place wasn’t especially secure, and with Rubio, John Kasich, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush all huddled with support in the low teens or high single digits, even a small post-debate dip could push Rubio from second to third ... or fourth ... or fifth....Nahhh, the media won't keep going after him. Oh, sure, he'll be damaged if he finishes third or somewhat worse, but as long as he's somewhere in the midst of that group fighting for second place (Cruz, Kasich, Bush), well ahead of the true losers (Christie, Carson, and Fiorina), he'll get a media do-over.
It’s ... quite possible that one of the legs of his three-legged stool gets kicked right out from under Rubio in New Hampshire if he finishes third or worse. If that happens, who knows how the media will go after him.
The evidence is in this post from Erick Erickson:
The Marco Rubio Robot Bull—-Erickson published this last night, even before the polls opened in Dixville Notch. He was already working the refs: If Rubio tanks in New Hampshire, it's because the liberals want to destroy him, along with collaborators in the GOP Establishment. Never mind the fact that Rubio was tripped up by Chris Christie, not some bearded sous-chef from Brooklyn. Never mind the fact that members of the GOP Establishment fall on their knees every night and beg the Republican Jesus to give them a Rubio nomination. And never mind the fact that the mainstream press would love a presentable Republican nominee who can challenge the hated Hillary Clinton or that old guy who threatens the wealth of journalists' hedge-fund pals.
Much of the political press leans left and has zero experience in politics. Perhaps they graduated Ivy League, did a tour or two at Salon or some lefty blog, then got in on the ground floor at a national media outlet covering politics. They can afford to split rent with five other bros or gals, buy a couple pairs of skinny jeans that they’ll refer to in the singular as a pant or a jean, and silently mock all the people they encounter on the campaign trail who are not cool or sophisticated or dressed like they robbed a Goodwill store in Bangkok. These political reporters have decided that Marco Rubio is a robot because they hear him repeat his lines all the time. They are idiots and Marco knows what he is doing....
For eight years the GOP elite and pundit class have bitched and moaned that the GOP needed to stay focused and on message. Along come Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio who both relentlessly stay on message and the GOP have decided one is unlikable and the other is a robot. It is all nonsense. It is a mutually sympathetic circle jerk of pundits and press racing each other to come up with the wittiest stereotype to capture the imagination of bored politicos tired of the cold in Iowa and New Hampshire. It is a game to the press, but is a life and death, daily struggle to the voters who yearn for something more and something else. Just as the “Cruz is not likable” line is unfair to Cruz, the “Rubio is a robot” line is unfair to Rubio. Cruz may be unlikable to Washington politicos and Rubio a repetitive robot to the same group, but the American public have not seemed to notice.
A Rubio loss will be blamed on liberal sabotage. Erickson is already assessing blame. Fox will undoubtedly follow up, given Rupert Murdoch's clear preference for Rubio. And the press -- already favorably disposed to Rubio -- will urge him to get back up on the two-wheeler and show us all that he can ride without falling down. His press after a New Hampshire loss will be "Can Rubio Come Back?" -- and hints that the answer is yes will be spotted everywhere. We'll be told he's sharper and crisper and clearly poised for a comeback if he just gets through a campaign appearance without repeating himself.
He'll still struggle to win the nomination, especially because several Establishment favorites are likely to stay in the race after New Hampshire. But he'll start getting great press again very soon.