Marco Rubio didn't win Monday night in Iowa. And no, a third place finish cannot be spun hard enough into a victory. But for the Republican establishment, Rubio's solid third place in Iowa, clearly in the top tier with Ted Cruz and Donald Trump gives the party a way forward that doesn't pose the general election risks of the bombastic billionaire or the uber-conservative Texas senator.
Rubio was not expected to garner more than 20 percent of the vote in Iowa, but he did. He finished with 23 percent of the vote, just a little more than a percentage point behind Donald Trump, who had been forecasted to win outright in Iowa. After months of stories about Rubio being on the cusp of his breakout moment, but mostly teetering along in the middle double digits in polls, it finally happened. Rubio, who rode the tea party wave into the Senate in 2010, has emerged as the establishment's best chance of taking down Trump or Cruz.
Adding to his momentum as caucus tallies were rolling in, news broke that South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott (R) was also planning on endorsing Rubio before the crucial South Carolina primary. Of course, Rubio will have to hustle to keep himself relevant heading into New Hampshire. His moment may be coming too soon.
"The time for the Republican establishment to unite is before New Hampshire," says Matt Mackowiak, a Texas-based Republican strategist. "You can foresee a scenario where they all continue to push off the moment of reckoning. And, the later that moment occurs, the less the party unity matters."