Florida Sen. Marco Rubio failed to capitalize on momentum gained after a surprisingly strong showing in Iowa, stumbling in response to a battering by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie during Saturday’s GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire. Rubio’s misfortune aided Donald Trump, who emerged from the debate relatively unscathed, while Christie did the dirty work of dispatching Rubio, who is running second to Trump in New Hampshire polls.
Rubio began his performance with a clearly canned statement about Obama’s desire to fundamentally change the country.
“Let’s dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing,” recited Rubio.
Christie immediately hit Rubio on his lack of experience, booming,
“You have not been involved in a consequential decision where you had to be held accountable. You just simply haven’t,” Christie said.
After a weak attempt to call into question Christie’s record in response, Rubio, shaken by Christie’s attack, repeated his line about Obama’s designs.
“But I would add this. Let’s dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Rubio said.
Christie seized the opening, hitting Rubio for his “memorized 25-second speech.” Remarkably, Rubio once again ended his rebuttal by claiming that the “notion that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing is just not true.”
Rubio’s weakness then showed in his answer to a question about North Korea and national security, offering a meek response about “standard procedure” and “contingencies.” This allowed Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Christie to come across much stronger on defense than the Florida senator.
Rubio floundered also on immigration, once again hammered by Christie. When asked in reference to his Gang of Eight Bill if he fought “for your own legislation, senator, or did you run from it?” Rubio avoided the question — not once, but twice.
“You have not been involved in a consequential decision where you had to be held accountable.”
“This is the difference between being a governor who actually has to be responsible for problems and not answering a question,” shot Christie. “The question was, ‘Did he fight for his legislation?’ It’s abundantly clear that he didn’t.”
Christie later rubbed it in by highlighting Rubio’s unconvincing attempts to distance himself from the hated legislation.
“I listened to Senator Rubio’s answer on his bill. He said his bill couldn’t pass on the Gang of Eight.,” he said. “He acted as if he was somehow disembodied from the bill. It was his bill. He said this idea doesn’t work. It was his idea.”
The closest Trump came to being wounded was in an exchange with Bush about eminent domain, though he also drew blood by bringing up Bush’s Establishment ties and claiming, amid boos, that they populated the audience.
Trump offered a strong defense of the principle.
“Eminent domain is an absolute necessity for a country, for our country,” he said. “Without it, you wouldn’t have roads, you wouldn’t have hospitals, you wouldn’t have anything. You wouldn’t have schools, you wouldn’t have bridges.”
Jeb accused Trump of hurting little old ladies.
“What Donald Trump did was use eminent domain to try to take the property of an elderly woman on the strip in Atlantic City,” Jeb countered.
Trump, however, was unfazed.
“Let me talk. Quiet,” blasted an angry Trump, frustrated by Bush’s repeated interruptions. When the hostile crowd booed in response, Trump doubled down. “That’s all of his donors and special interests out there.”
If that’s who was there, they had a bad night. Their newly anointed hope, Rubio, had failed. They could only hope that the solid performance of the other Establishment candidates, Bush, Christie and Kasich, made up for the setback.