As recently as last week, things couldn't have been much better for Marco Rubio. The media celebrated his third-place finish in Iowa as if it were a victory; endorsements came rushing in; mega-donors starting lining up; and polls showed him on track for a strong, second-place finish in New Hampshire.
Rubio's "3-2-1" plan -- third place in Iowa, second place in New Hampshire, first place in South Carolina -- was on track. The Florida senator was positioned to ride a wave of hype towards his party's nomination.
Last week, however, suddenly seems like a long time ago. Rubio choked in Saturday night's debate, embarrassed himself at the worst possible moment, and appears to have come in fifth in New Hampshire. No GOP candidate has ever finished worse than second and gone on to win the nomination. Rubio's chances appear to have been shattered.
But the senator still hopes to pick up the pieces, and as TPM reported, Rubio took his message to Fox this morning.
The Florida senator later added that he won't stop talking about how Obama is hurting the country. "One of the things I'm criticized for is saying the truth, and I'll continue to say this: Barack Obama is undermining this country. He is hurting this country. He is doing serious damage to this country in a way that I believe is part of a plan to weaken America on the global stage. This is the truth," Rubio said on Fox.
For any adult looking at reality, it obviously is not the truth, but let's not brush past the specifics of this pitch too quickly. Rubio believes he sees a secret plan, hatched by the president of the United States, "to weaken America" deliberately.
In other words, Rubio's comeback plan involves telling voters that President Obama is somehow guilty of treason.
Indeed, consider this exchange yesterday between Alex Conant, Rubio's communications director, and CNN's Chris Cuomo.
CUOMO: So [Marco Rubio] really believes that President Obama is intentionally trying to destroy the country? CONANT: Absolutely. And I - and I - all - all evidence points - all evidence confirms that. He - CUOMO: That he's intentionally trying to destroy the country? CONANT: Absolutely.
National Journal's Ron Brownstein added that the Rubio campaign issued a press release soon after arguing, "We are the only campaign who is exposing President Obama for his deliberate actions to destroy our country."
This isn't a joke. None of this is satire. I'm not being hyperbolic in the hopes of making Rubio and his team appear insane -- these are all actual quotes. The scripted phrase that the senator kept mindlessly repeating on Saturday night hinted in this direction, but Team Rubio is now abandoning subtlety.
To be sure, there are strange, assorted voices -- Glenn Beck, Dinesh D'Souza, various right-wing bloggers -- who make the case that that the president is trying to destroy America, on purpose, through some secret sabotage campaign that only unhinged conservatives can see. It's a crackpot idea, espoused by discredited loons.
And yet, Marco Rubio, the darling of the Republican establishment and much of the Beltway punditocracy, is actually embracing this garbage as a way of rescuing his campaign.
Who knows, maybe it'll work. Maybe this is just the thing to make a flailing, panicky candidate get back on track. But at least for now, it seems like just another cringe-worthy moment for a senator who has no idea what he's doing.