... a lot of caution is also in order. Pundits haven’t misgauged the impact of a debate since … well, since only about a week ago, when the “smart take” was that Trump had won the final Iowa debate by not having shown up for it, and that Ted Cruz had a poor evening. Instead, Cruz won the Iowa caucuses a few days later, with Trump in second with a vote share well below where polls had projected him.We're reading at Politico that a snap poll shows Rubio slipping and John Kasich rising to second place, but it's an internal poll from the Kasich campaign, so grains of salt are in order. The same goes for the internal poll with similar results from a candidate who's not even identified, which we're told about at the oh-so-authoritative Breitbart.
... Some of the reason we reporters thought Rubio’s answer was so awful is because it confirmed some of our gossip about Rubio, namely that he tends to give pat, repetitive answers. But we tend to be more sensitive about that stuff, because we watch every debate from start to finish, and then we see lots of the candidates’ stump speeches and town halls on top of it. There’s a fine line between a candidate who seems stilted and repetitive and one who seems “on message” instead.
Is there any evidence that home viewers saw Rubio’s performance differently? Well, maybe. On Google Trends, there was a huge spike in searches for Rubio during the debate -- but it came not during his glitchy moments but instead after an effective answer he delivered on abortion about two hours into the debate. Meanwhile, a Google Consumer Surveys poll conducted midway through the debate found respondents thought that Trump, Rubio and Cruz (in that order) were winning the debate.
Back in the world of real surveys, this morning's edition of the daily UMass-Lowell tracking poll shows Rubio slipping, but only by a point, to a second-place tie with Ted Cruz. And while anecdotes aren't data, check out what voters say in this NPR story about Rubio:
One supporter says with a laugh, "I know he got a little beat up, but he stayed on message!" She adds: "He was just talking about Obama, and that's kind of what he feels about it, and they always say that stuff over and over and over again, so of course he's going to say it over and over again." Another supporter, we're told, thinks Rubio was "bullied unfairly" ("He got taken by a very good prosecutor"). Yet another explains the glitch moments away by saying that Rubio's not an attack dog and that's OK ("We're not looking for someone who's able to necessarily attack"). An undecided voter hears him speak at a campaign appearance and says, "Better than the debate."
I think Silver might be right about political pros scoring this more poorly than voters. Voters expect politicians to do politician-y things ("they always say that stuff over and over and over again"). Maybe some are sick of it, but those people are probably voting for Trump or Carson or Cruz anyway.
David Corn believes that newfound media wariness is trouble enough for Rubio:
The narrative was Rubio gaining an edge in the so-called establishment lane of the race and being in the position to pull away from Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie....Yes -- but if he does well in New Hampshire, the Marcobot narrative will be gone. "Rubio, King of the Establishment Lane" will be the narrative once again. In fact, he'll have lowered expectations and then exceeded them.
Post "Marcobot," the media tale is quite different. Is Rubio ready? Is there any there there? Can this guy think on his feet? Does he have the smarts to be president? He can expect the press to keep a watchful eye on his words and note his penchant for repeating a series of well-honed lines. (Which is, after all, what a stump speech is.) What this means is that Rubio's best asset could turn into a liability....
Poof. That magic is gone. Or at least we now see the strings.
Or he could come in fifth behind Trump, Kasich, Cruz, and Bush. In which case, the CW was right.