The Republican presidential debate Saturday demonstrated a number of key points regarding the race and about Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., specifically.
1. The Rubio team showed tremendous confidence in booking the candidate on all the Sunday shows. If he had done poorly it would have been a disaster. As it was he could take a victory lap.
2. If not for the interlude with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in the preceding debate, Rubio would be the overwhelming favorite to become the consensus pick for the nomination. Given his debate last night, he went a long way toward debunking the "robotic" slur.
3. In getting back on his feet with such an impressive performance last night, Rubio went a long way toward demonstrating the toughness that many Republicans were unsure he possessed. It helped when he dissected Sen. Ted Cruz's (Texas) record so effectively, showing he can be aggressive without being obnoxious.
4. The dislike among the candidates for Cruz is palpable. Today, Rubio got a chance to reiterate his attack: "Obviously in the last couple of weeks, he has really exhibited this very troubling tendency to say things that just aren't true. Just making things up. I mean, just this week alone he had to pull an ad off the air because it didn't tell the truth about my position on sanctuary cities. He's lied about my position on marriage, he's lied about Planned Parenthood and my position on that. And he's not being honest about his previous position on immigration." Whether one believes Cruz intentionally misleads or is simply too clever by half, it is easy to see how he comes to offend so many colleagues so uniformly. Rubio is unique, however, in his ability to call out Cruz for dishonesty without himself seeming to be mean or angry. He nevertheless gets help from others in convincing viewers that perhaps his main competition for the not-Rubio crown is dishonest.
5. The Bush super PAC does Jeb Bush no favors. Its members are obviously frustrated, and remark upon it frequently, that Bush is the primary Donald Trump attacker. This appears to be part of the attempt to belittle Rubio, an effort which comes across as ham-handed and petty, as one saw in the attempt to mock Rubio for taking candy (gum?) offered by Trump. It is entirely out of step with Bush's more presidential tone and makes it appear the Bush team is rattled by Rubio's good reviews.
6. Drawing massive crowds Sunday (2,000 at one location) suggests Rubio has some momentum. Expectations for him are that he will finish a solid third, but if he outperforms, he will take a big step toward becoming the de facto establishment choice.
7. The Supreme Court was supposed to be in Cruz's wheelhouse, but both during the debate and on television today, Rubio gave Republicans the sense he would be every bit as effective at choosing a replacement for the vacancy opened by Justice Antonin Scalia's passing. "Here's the bottom line, I don't trust Barack Obama on the appointment of Supreme Court justices. We cannot afford to have Scalia replaced by someone like the nominees he's put there in the past.," he said on "Meet the Press." "We're going to have an election, there's going to be a new president, I believe it's going to be me, and we're going to look for someone that most resembles Scalia to replace him."
8. Rubio's defense of President George W. Bush was savvy on two levels. First, he stood up to Trump's ludicrous "Bush lied" meme that is despised by conservatives. Second, he is in essence is saying, "You can revere Bush and still vote for me." With Bush 43's popularity in the state and appearance on the trail, this is about as effective a way of limiting his impact as one can devise.