While providing a post-mortem on the results of the Iowa caucuses, Rachel Maddow could not resist resorting to kneejerk sarcasm, which she found immensely hilarious, making it all the more satisfying when Maddow was forced to backpedal soon thereafter.
The target of her snark? Sen. Marco Rubio's unexpectedly strong showing in Iowa, which was one of the major stories to emerge from this cycle's caucuses.
Maddow didn't think so, just the opposite in fact, as she made abundantly clear on her MSNBC show Tuesday night --
The candidate who is claiming the biggest mandate out of Iowa, weirdly, is a guy who lost not only to Ted Cruz but he also lost to Donald Trump. Florida senator Marco Rubio was the candidate last night who was first onto the stage before anybody else delivering a combination toothpaste ad and wildly gleeful victory speech celebrating his third-place finish in Iowa! And again, big picture, third out of 12 is a nice thing but, you know, Marco Rubio had been in third place in the Iowa polls for weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks. And then he got ... third place in Iowa! (forced guffaw) He had been in third place in every Iowa poll for weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks. He was expected to get third place in Iowa and then he got third place in Iowa -- whooo! (laughs yet again at the alleged hilarity).
By the magic of top-dollar, A-game political spin-doctoring, Marco Rubio doing exactly as well as he was supposed to is supposed to be something that we regard as huge news. It's now the near-unanimous view in the Beltway and in the punditocracy that Marco Rubio is the candidate to beat in New Hampshire.
Notice what is conspicuously absent from Maddow's analysis -- the actual results of the GOP's Iowa caucuses. Showing them would have created the unfortunate but amusing effect of making her appear more ridiculous than usual. To recap, the results were Cruz finishing with 28 percent, Trump with 24, and Rubio with 23. The only numbers Maddow did show were of the Real Clear Politics polling averages, which showed Cruz at nearly 24 percent (four below where he finished), Trump at 28 percent (four above), and Rubio at nearly 17 percent (6 points below). Only to Maddow does this constitute Rubio "doing exactly as well as he was supposed to," especially considering that in the race that matters most, Rubio came out of Iowa with seven delegates, same as second-place finisher Trump.
By Maddow's reckoning, Sen. Eugene McCarthy losing to incumbent Democrat president Lyndon Johnson in the 1968 New Hampshire primary by the sizable margin of seven points must have been a solid victory for Johnson -- when in fact it compelled Robert Kennedy to jump into the race and Johnson to announce within weeks that he would not seek re-election.
Along the same lines, Bill Clinton finished second to Paul Tsongas in New Hampshire in the '92 Democrat primary -- and was quickly dubbed the "Comeback Kid" for placing high enough to survive embarrassing revelations about draft dodging and womanizing to remain alive as a candidate. When it comes to caucuses and primaries, candidates don't always have to finish first to come out ahead.
It didn't take long for Maddow to learn that hers was a lonely voice claiming Rubio's insignificant showing in Iowa. On her program the following night, Maddow breathlessly announced the results of the first national poll taken after the Iowa caucuses -- and the results were tasty indeed --
But before we get to those details, I do actually have some legit breaking news hot off the presses. What I have in my hot little hand here is the first -- the first -- new national poll in the presidential race since the Iowa caucuses. This is a poll on the Republican side, it was done by PPP (Public Policy Polling) ... and we've got this poll exclusively tonight. Nobody else has this, I am breaking this news right now.
Got all of that? This is "legit breaking news" ... hot off the presses! And Maddow is breaking this news right now. And what, pray tell, is the news? --
What this new poll says is that (drum roll, please!) Donald Trump is still winning, but he is winning by a lot less than he was winning before. The last time this national poll was taken by PPP, it was mid-December, Donald Trump was in the lead with 34 percent of the vote nationwide. Now, after Iowa, he has dropped 9 points. He has dropped from 34 percent down to 25 percent of the vote. He's still leading but he's leading by a lot less than he was before. And right behind him, tied at 21 percent each, are Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. ... That tiny little split between them only four points between Trump at 25 and Cruz and Rubio at 21. Again, this is breaking news. This poll is going to be officially released tomorrow, again, as the first new national poll on the Republican side since Ted Cruz won Iowa. ...
Basically what this poll is telling us, if this is an accurate snapshot of the race right now, what this is telling us is that Donald Trump is still in the lead but that momentum is going in the wrong direction, that trajectory is downward, he's dropping like a stone. A nine-point drop in a month is a big drop.
On the other side of the coin, Marco Rubio is the one rocketing up the fastest. Marco Rubio has risen 8 points in this poll since the last time it was taken last month, Marco Rubio up eight points from December. Ted Cruz, who just won Iowa, he's up three points from December.
So this tells us that we've got on the Republican side a much-tighter race for the Republican nomination than we have seen in a very long time. This is the smallest national lead that Donald Trump has had in any national Republican poll since early November. And what this means if this polling is borne out, if this is not some outlier, if this is how the race looks now, this shows that Iowa matters. Iowa has really changed the race. And believe it or don't, this year the way it has changed the race, the way it matters, is that Iowa has turned out to be terrible for the guy who came in second and it's turned out to be great for the guy who came in third! (laughs weakly) Go figure.
Gee, who could see that one coming? Looks like Maddow has belatedly joined the "near unanimous" consensus within the Beltway and punditocracy that she was eager to belittle not so long ago.