Marco Rubio’s Surprise Close Finish

Mary Claire Kendall Author, Oasis: Conversion Stories of Hollywood Legends
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How about those Iowa caucuses! Last night, the Senator from Florida upended the Republican presidential race, denying the billionaire businessman the coveted number one spot and trailing him by just 2,262 votes. Here are the results, with 100 percent of the precincts reporting: Ted Cruz: 28 percent, 51,666 votes; Donald Trump: 24 percent, 45,427 votes; Marco Rubio: 23 percent, 43,165 votes.

This morning, folks like Joe Scarborough were saying, ‘we saw it coming all along’ in spite of the fact that Rubio was, for weeks, lagging behind both Cruz and Trump in the Real Clear Politics’ average.

The truth is predicted this surprising upset and even won a couple of bets — nothing more than a drink and maybe a dinner thrown in.

Here’s why.

My sense is Donald Trump made a mistake in skipping the Iowa debate on Thursday, January 28, less than 4 days before the Iowa Caucus, as I wrote in this Town Hall column last week.

Two polls released February 1, taken after the debate – in contrast to the “gold standard” Des Moines Register (DMR) poll – show him up by just one point. The most recent was conducted by Emerson College Polling Society.

“In the last poll before the Iowa Caucus,” the Emerson poll summary states, “Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are virtually tied with Trump at 27 percent and Cruz 26 percent. This is a 6-point drop for Trump in one week, as the last Emerson Poll on January 21 had Trump at 33 percent. In the same period, Marco Rubio’s is at 22 percent — up 8 points from 14 percent during the same time period. The rest of the GOP is far behind, all under 5 percent.”

This and the fact that Trump’s unfavorability was a sky-high 47 percent among Iowa Republicans, with 45 percent telling DMR they could still change their minds – their second choice was Rubio – did not bode well for the front runner. Not to mention, Trump’s relatively less robust ground game. And while Cruz had the ground game par excellence, Rubio also employed some smart technological advantages.

In addition to which Marco did a stellar job in the Des Moines debate, as he has done in all of them.

Before the caucuses, the predictions were that the peasants with pitchforks are back — a Times Square sign now flashing, “The French aristocracy never saw it coming either,” said John McCain campaign advisor Steve Schmidt. (The same sign that showed up in Tribeca, Lower Manhattan, in April 2014.)  They were mainly referring to the outsiders without government experience. Cruz likes to pretend he’s an outsider peasant, but as Rubio pointed out, he designed President George W. Bush’s immigration plan.

The hardworking, play-by-the-rules folk are, like Peter Finch in Network (1976), understandably mad as hell. But, they are also smart and have their eyes on the ultimate prize: The White House, and, booting out the party of the current occupant. Do they really want to put someone in charge who has not had one day of government experience? Would you hire someone to perform surgery on you who has no experience? Well, folks, we’re hiring someone who will be performing intricate political surgery on a body that he needs to know all about.  And, while it’s not impossible, since a smart, trusted adviser can go a long way in helping a newbie’s steep learning curve, it might not be what voters, in the end, deem wise.

Also, the fact is, Trump and Senator Ted Cruz have been duking it out, with Rubio coming right up the middle. Here’s a sample on yesterday’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos:  

Trump: “Ted Cruz is a total liar… he’s a liar… he didn’t even put on his financial disclosure forms… favorable deals from banks on Wall Street… Ted is a liar…”

George Stephanopolous: “You and Ted Cruz are really going at it. Any concern that Marco Rubio is going to sneak up the middle?”

Time will tell how Iowa will impact the race. My sense is the surprises have only just begun.

Mary Claire Kendall, a Washington-based writer, is author of Oasis: Conversion Stories of Hollywood Legends.