Ted Cruz won in Iowa, but there are now four politicians whose presidential ambitions immediately depend on grinding Marco Rubio into dust in New Hampshire. He did what he had to do last night — indeed he came close to shocking the political world by beating Donald Trump — but that was but a small step towards true contention. He’s in the conversation, but he’s not a true contender unless and until he can beat the establishment governors in New Hampshire — perhaps by enough to drive them from the race.
There is simply no plausible path forward for Bush, Christie, or Kasich if they can’t finish above Rubio in New Hampshire. One of them can arguably finish behind Trump and Cruz and then argue that they’re filling the establishment lane going forward, but where’s the constituency for an establishment governor who couldn’t finish above fourth in either of the first two states? Will South Carolina voters give them new life? It’s unlikely to the point of impossibility. Bush’s PAC has understood this for some time and has already spent millions launching a frontal attack against Rubio, and he may well spend millions more.
And now Trump may well turn both barrels on Rubio. Cruz will get a bounce out of Iowa, but Trump will want to win as convincingly as possible in New Hampshire, and that means doing all he can to kill the narrative that it’s a three man race. Trump can’t take away Cruz’s Iowa victory, but he can do his best to kill Rubio’s surge before it gains real momentum.
Though it will doubtless change significantly over the next week, the RCP average puts Rubio in 5th place in New Hampshire, with 10.2 percent support. Moving up to second place — vaulting over three angry governors and a surging Ted Cruz — is a heavy lift, especially in face of yet another hurricane of attack ads.
One final note — for those who still believe that Rubio is the “establishment choice,” it’s certainly an odd way for the establishment to behave. From where I sit, the establishment seems to doing all it can to annihilate its alleged “choice.”