The Republican presidential field gathering in Greenville, South Carolina, on Saturday night is down to six, and it’s shrinking fast.
The New Hampshire primary culled another two candidates—Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina— from the race, and chances are that one or more of the hopefuls on stage Thursday night won’t make it to the next debate in Houston on February 26. But who’s next to go? Barring a big surprise, the winners of Iowa and New Hampshire, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, should be safe until Super Tuesday at the beginning of March. Ben Carson is struggling to stay afloat as it is. The three candidates in the middle—Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich—may have the most to lose. (Obligatory Jim Gilmore disclaimer: The former Virginia governor finally suspended his campaign on Friday afternoon after he was not invited to participate in the debate.)
The spotlight in Saturday’s 9 p.m. debate in CBS will undoubtedly shine brightest on Rubio. By now, everyone knows what happened to him in the last debate a week ago: He robotically repeated the same talking point about President Obama over and over again, became an instant butt of jokes, and sunk his chances for a strong second-place finish in New Hampshire. Rubio dropped to fifth and vowed that such a debate debacle “will never happen again.” The best thing the Florida senator has going for him is that his nemesis, Christie, will not be in South Carolina after suspending his campaign on Wednesday. Expect a self-deprecating joke or two from Rubio, who turned to humor a couple years ago when he was mocked for taking big gulps of water during his speech responding to the State of the Union address in 2013.