Marco Rubio from is prancing around with his third place showing in Iowa, like the boy in grade school who loses but gets a trophy for competing. (Usually, Republicans don't like this.) Much of the media is buying it and Seth Stevenson notes
The Washington Post deemed Rubio a “winner” because “he made a strong run at Trump,” while Trump got classified as a “loser” whose second-place finish (again, you understand, ahead of Rubio) might represent “a catastrophic hole that will bring the whole enterprise down.” Politico’s Dylan Byers tweeted that Rubio had secured a “win for [the] establishment” and that Trump had suffered a “clear loss.” Further examples abound.
Rubio himself, in a postcaucus address that sounded a lot like a victory speech, proudly embraced his tertiary status. “So this is the moment they said would never happen,” he began, beaming. “For months they told us we had no chance … but tonight here in Iowa the people sent a very clear message.” Indeed. Very clearly, more of them voted for Trump. A couple thousand more of them....
It’s a collective hallucination. Like we’ve all made a pact to disregard the actual vote tallies.
Stevenson recognizes, however, "the most insidious thing about the expectations game is that it might matter, even though it shouldn’t."
It matters because- consciously or otherwise- Rush Limbaugh has bought it. Less than two months ago, Limbaugh maintained
Marco Rubio was part of the Gang of Eight trying to secure amnesty and wishes he wasn’t. Ted Cruz never was and they’re trying to make it out like he was. At the end of the day when people go vote, people are gonna remember of the two it was Marco Rubio that was a member of the Gang of Eight and Ted Cruz that wasn’t.”
Limbaugh never was specifically opposed to the Rubio candidacy but was decidely cooler toward the Senator than he was to Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, or to Donald Trump. However, he changed his tune promptly once the results were in from the Iowa caucus, stating (admiring image below from his website) on Wednesday
I think I made the point analyzing the results in Iowa that Rubio is heavily influenced by Reagan, as was Ted Cruz, as was Dr. Carson. Three of the four top finishers in Iowa -- and I think it's momentous. I think it's remarkable. 'Cause the Republican Party establishment they are trying to tie Rubio to is actually the group that wants to get rid of Reagan and Reagan influences, the Reagan fetish, the era of Reagan is over. And I think Rubio's a Reaganite.
That's tantamount to gaining Rush's "imprimatur," as Steve M. puts it. SM believes it "might make him acceptable to the crazies (even as the mainstream media is persuading middle-of-the-road voters all over America that he's a moderate)." Nevertheless, as important as it is, the Limbaugh imprimatur will be even less important in persuading the right-wing popular base than it is in signifying that Rubio is (again) the candidate to beat, the guy whose nomination it is to lose.
There are very few things more reliable in any presidential campaign season
There are very few more reliable events throughout the years than that Rush Limbaugh will avidly, enthusiastically, and demagogically support the Republican nominee for President. If Rand Paul- whom Limbaugh has rarely if ever defended, let alone applauded- had become the GOP nominee, Limbaugh would have unqualifiedly endorsed him for the office of the presidency. If Jim Gilmore, whomever he is, had won the nomination, Rush would have had his back.
Neither Rand Paul nor Jim Gilmore ever had a chance of pulling it off. However, Limbaugh is careful to couch criticism of any Republican candidate with a serious chance of nomination in terms that can be revoked or modified if the man or woman becomes the GOP standard bearer. And designation as a "Reaganite" is imperative.
The expectations game matters, as does the claim of Rubio spokesman Joe Pounder that "Marco is the only candidate who can unite conservatives and beat Hillary Clinton," which fits in nicely with the portrayal of the right-wing extremist from Florida as the campaign's "moderate." When Christie and Bush pound on Rubio, it becomes increasingly clear they believe he must be stopped in his tracks.
As someone who predicted that if Trump (still purportedly way ahead in New Hampshire) were to lose in Iowa, his support would plummet, I can be sure of this analysis. Maybe.