First, Rubio must perform strongly in New Hampshire next week. Even more importantly, all the other candidates you used to like must perform poorly. If, hypothetically, John Kasich or Chris Christie rather than Marco Rubio finishes a strong second to Donald Trump, Rubio’s future as the Great Establishment Hope would suddenly look a lot less hopeful.Well, that might happen -- moderate and pro-Estalishment voters in New Hampshire might choose the candidate they like best, Kasich or Christie or, God help us, Jeb, rather than the other guy they like who just so happens to be getting all the buzz as they're preparing to vote. New Hampshirites do have a reputation for -- what's the cliche? -- flinty independence. But this, from a Concord Monitor story, makes more sense:
Some say Rubio’s third-place caucus finish could give him a boost among moderate Republican voters here who don’t want Trump or Cruz, and see the Florida senator as the party’s best chance to defeat them.Reputation aside, New Hampshirites tend to go with safe choices -- Romney, McCain, Bush. So what else does David Frum have?
Those voters “have an incentive to pick the strongest horse,” said Dartmouth College professor of government Brendan Nyhan. “To the extent Rubio can peel people off of those other candidates, it could produce a swing in his traction."
Then, in the days after New Hampshire votes, all the other candidates you used to like must rapidly withdraw gracefully from the field. No more calling Rubio “the boy in the bubble!” Jeb Bush’s people, in particular must somehow stifle their resentment and rage, and refrain from spending their remaining $50 million of super-PAC funds to remind South Carolina voters of Rubio’s past (and likely future) support for higher levels of immigration.Obviously, Establishment candidates who finish strong in New Hampshire will want to stay in the race, even if most (cough Kasich cough) don't have much appeal in any other state. But I think most of these folks will drop out if they do poorly in New Hampshire. The only one who might be insane enough to stay in the race after a New Hampshire flop would be Jeb, ostensibly because he'll still have the Florida primary to look forward to, but really because he's run his entire race as if his parents are going to beat the crap out of him if he drops out.
But so what? Outside New Hampshire, everyone in the GOP hates Jeb. Being attacked by Jeb probably helps Rubio.
What else, David?
Next, in a year when the Republican base is seething against Republican leadership, you must find some way to convince those voters that the tens of millions in campaign donations and super-PAC dollars about to flow to Rubio don’t mark him out as the new “establishment man,” even though, of course, it’s true.The "anti-Establishment" guy who won Iowa is awash in billionaire super PAC cash. His wife works for Goldman Sachs. Nobody in the GOP electorate cares.
You must also somehow persuade Donald Trump to exit the race quietly, rather than smash all the scenery on his way off the stage. Every time he attacks Rubio (and you!) for planning to leave Obamacare beneficiaries dying in the streets, he’s providing material for devastating Hillary Clinton attack ads in the fall. Somebody has to cajole and coax Trump into feeling that the real winners are those who know when to quit.See, I think having Trump remain in the race helps rather than hurts Rubio. If we get down to a three-man race, Trump and Cruz will be splitting the anti-Establishment vote while Rubio scoops up the rest. And even if you assume that Trump would attack Rubio as a heartless opponent of universal health care (why would he say that?), that won't hurt in the fall. People want health care, but Obamacare is unloved. There's still no penalty for running against it except in deep-blue America.
Oh, and as for Trump himself, he really might be melting like the Wicked Witch of the West after a water splash. This just went up on Twitter:
Started a national poll tonight that we'll release Thursday but already clear- Trump's standing significantly diminished— PublicPolicyPolling (@ppppolls) February 3, 2016
Because I want the GOP nominee to be an embodiment of the party's rage, I hope Cruz and not Rubio is the beneficiary of any Trump slippage. But I won't be surprised if the voters, after falling in love with Trump, are falling in line for Rubio.
And finally, David?
Finally, you’re going to need a plan for Rubio himself. He’s convinced you that he’s a candidate of deep foreign-policy wisdom. That self-presentation may be tough to sustain in a general-election race against Hillary Clinton, especially when she pounds home the message that a vote for Rubio is a vote for more wars in the Middle East and millions of health-insurance cancellations at home. What’s he going to say in reply? Personal biography only goes so far in presidential politics, otherwise Bob Dole and John McCain would have completed two terms each.Oh, please. This is America. Dole and McCain didn't lose because Americans don't vote based on biography -- they lost because they were old and familiar and dour, and we like new and fresh and upbeat, or at least new to us.
Rubio won't need to talk policy in detail -- he'll just do that tremulous high-school-valedictorian thing he does with his voice and say ISIS is an "existential threat," then say, "For eight years, this president has refused to protect America, but when I am president, I will!" And only Democratic voters care about insurance cancellations -- poor and struggling whites assume it's because the non-whites get all the good benefits, so they blame Democrats.
I'm not saying that all of this will happen. But if Rubio gets a few breaks, it's going to be a lot easier for him to win than Frum believes.