What happened to Boy Wonder?

Rubio, Christie exchange blows early
Rubio, Christie exchange blows early

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    Rubio, Christie exchange blows early

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Rubio, Christie exchange blows early 02:14

Story highlights

  • Republican presidential debate took place Saturday in New Hampshire
  • Maria Cardona: Christie had his best debate to date; Rubio struggled

Maria Cardona is a political commentator for CNN, a Democratic strategist and principal at the Dewey Square Group. She is a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton, is a Clinton supporter in 2016, and was communications director for the Democratic National Committee. She also is a former communications director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)What happened to Boy Wonder during Saturday night's Republican presidential candidate debate? Marco Rubio lacked luster during this last debate and his campaign has got to be worried New Hampshire voters may be rethinking the senator's preparedness to be commander-in-chief. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie eviscerated him time and time again -- about his canned responses to questions, and his lack of real answers. It was a bit jaw-dropping then to hear Senator Rubio repeat the same line five times, giving credence to Christie's attacks. Rubio was off his game, got rattled by Christie, and showed voters he is not ready for prime time.

Rubio also had a tough time on the issue of his accomplishments in the Senate. One of the most damning moments for him this past week was when Rick Santorum, after having suspended his own campaign and endorsing Rubio, could not highlight a single Rubio accomplishment during a national television interview. Jeb Bush is using that footage in an ad campaign, and this will not be the last we hear of this.
Maria Cardona
Christie by contrast had his best debate to date. He brought the heat, he showed his fight, and he has backed all of that up with weeks and weeks of hand-to-hand campaigning in New Hampshire. Christie has left nothing on the table for Tuesday's primary. He has given his all and New Hampshire voters may reward him for it.
Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich had their best debates to date. It was clear they were prepared, felt comfortable in their own skins, and are looking at New Hampshire to make their last stands. The problem is, it may be too late, and there is only room for one third place. It may be that fourth place could be good enough for Bush, especially after Rubio's weak debate performance, but Bush's donors are already looking to jump, if they haven't already, and they need proof that Bush is still in the game. And he likely is not.
Kasich presents a very commonsense approach to dealing with many key issues like poverty, immigration, and economic inequality. He comes across as -- dare I say it? -- a genuinely compassionate conservative. His numbers are good in New Hampshire and he also has focused on a good showing here to prove he has staying power. His problem long term, however, is that if he does well in New Hampshire, he may still come off as too common sense-y (at least for Republican base voters who have tilted away from that virtue).
Donald Trump, meanwhile, may still be ahead in the polls, but he did not have a very good debate. He had a heated exchange with Bush on eminent domain during which he effectively insulted every person present in the audience by saying they were not too happy with him because he doesn't take a dime from them. His dismissive demeanor may hurt him in New Hampshire, where voters are notoriously independent and don't like being talked down to or dismissed. Trump seemed to do a bit of both. We will see on Tuesday if Trump can actually deliver on his promise of being a "winner."
And Ted Cruz, the big winner out of Iowa? He didn't have a great night, either. He did not come across as a credible commander-in-chief, and he was under fire almost immediately from Ben Carson, who took him to task for his campaign's lie to Iowa voters that he was dropping out of the campaign. Cruz perpetuated the lie by blaming CNN reporting.
Ultimately, though, none of these candidates seems in tune with New Hampshire -- or the country at large.
Whether it is Trump and Cruz wanting to bring back torture, Cruz not understanding what "carpet bombing" really means (saying in the next breath he would do it in a "targeted way"), no one having an answer for North Korea, failing to explain what they would do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country (except for Trump and Cruz who want to deport them), or a determination to take health care decisions away from women and their doctors -- this group of candidates were a hot mess of contradictions.
The only question now is did any of the candidates make a good enough case to take the win in Tuesday's primary? The notoriously independent voters of the Live Free or Die state will give their answer very soon.