Most of the polls leading up to the New Hampshire primary are showing Ted Cruz either 3rd or 4th. The Boston Globe poll even shows him at 5th. Following the ABC News GOP Debate, Cruz and frontrunner Donald Trump did very little to help or hurt their cases. but one notable exchange between Marco Rubio and Chris Christie may have done some real damage to the candidate that most believe will finish 2nd in the state.
After an embarrassing use of the same canned response was used by Rubio four times, Christie called it out. “There it is,” he said as Rubio espoused his belief, again, and again, that President Obama knows exactly what he’s doing. It’s a talking point that is scientific in nature. It was designed to point out that he recognizes the enemy. It’s designed to get heads nodding in agreement and to highlight the idea that Rubio’s competitors have underestimated the President and the Democrats. It was supposed to create the narrative that while the other candidates were attacking each other, Rubio was making the assumptive close by attacking the party he intends to battle once the dust settles on the primaries.
All of it was properly programmed into Rubio. The problem is that it was too well programmed. He “glitched” by using the popular canned response repeatedly.
This means that Christie will benefit, right? Actually, no. Rubio as the Establishment candidate may have taken a blow, but the three others – Christie, John Kasich, and Jeb Bush – all had good nights as well. Kasich had a contrasting message of hope that was catered to the New Hampshire audience and Bush landed some blows against Trump while having his strongest debate performance overall. That’s a problem. Nobody emerged as the clear choice for the Establishment voters to fall for if Rubio turns out to not be the guy.
What does this mean for Cruz? If the votes Rubio lost in the debate and through a heavy barrage of attack ads on New Hampshire airwaves get scattered among the other candidates rather than consolidating behind one of them, then they all get a bump. That bump may not be enough to push them over Rubio, but if Cruz truly has the grassroots support that he claims to have, he may be able to move up in the final vote tally. At this point, it’s not out of the question to see Cruz move up to second behind Trump.
The other thing that Cruz has going for him is the low set of expectations being placed on him in the state. Most media outlets have written him off even after his Iowa victory because New Hampshire is considered to be a moderate state. This is actually an inappropriate characterization. New Hampshire has the largest set of voters who consider themselves “very conservative” of all the states in the northeast. They love their guns and they promote the conservative principle of smaller government. This inappropriate characterization has the mainstream media feeling like Cruz is toast in New Hampshire. They may get surprised on Tuesday if none of the Establishment candidates can make a serious move before then.
Donald Trump has such a large lead in the polls that it seems very unlikely he would lose. However, the race for 2nd is vital. If Rubio gets beaten by Cruz in an allegedly Establishment state like New Hampshire, we will see a shift of anti-Trump voters shifting to Cruz. A Rubio dip to third or even fourth could turn this into a two-man race going forward.