"Surprise Of The Evening": Fox News Hypes Marco Rubio's Predicted Third Place Iowa Caucuses Finish

››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS & JARED HOLT

Fox News is putting its thumb on the scales in the wake of the Iowa Republican caucuses, promoting Sen. Marco Rubio's third place finish as "better than expected" and the "surprise of the evening," despite recent Iowa polls consistently showing Rubio in third place.

Rubio Finishes Iowa Caucuses In Third Place, Matching Most Recent Polls

Marco Rubio Finishes Third In Iowa Caucuses Behind Cruz And Trump. Results from the 2016 Iowa caucuses showed that Ted Cruz was declared the winner with 27.7 percent of the vote. Donald Trump came in second with 24.3 percent and Marco Rubio finished third, winning 23.1 percent of the vote. [Wall Street Journal2/1/2016]

Recent Iowa Republican Caucuses Polls Show Rubio In Third Place. The RealClearPolitics collection of polling data for the Iowa Republican presidential caucuses consistently showed Rubio in third place. In one poll Rubio tied with Iowa winner Ted Cruz for second place:

Iowa Poll Results

[RealClearPolitics, accessed 2/2/16

Fox News Hosts And Commentators Ignore Polls, Laud Rubio's Performance

Megyn Kelly Congratulates Rubio Campaign For "Better Than Expected Finish." On the February 1 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File, host Megyn Kelly congratulated Rubio's communications director Alex Conan on a "better than expected finish":

MEGYN KELLY (HOST): Alex Conan is the communications director for Senator Rubio's presidential campaign. He joins me now. Alex, congratulations on your better than expected finish. How did you think you did it?

ALEX CONAN: It is a big night for us, Megyn. We did it because we made Marco front and center in this campaign. He had a ton of speaking time at the Fox debate last week, as you know, and people saw what he's offering the American people, his optimistic message that we can be -- we can make the 21st century a new American century. That's what he's been doing every day on the campaign trail here in Iowa for the last couple of weeks and it connected with voters. People want ideas, they want solutions -- as Dr. Krauthammer was saying in the previous segment -- they know that we have challenges, but they want solutions. That's what Marco is offering in this campaign, and voters responded in a tremendous way here in Iowa over the last few days. [Fox News, The Kelly File2/1/16]

Brit Hume And Stephen Hayes Label Marco Rubio's Third Place Finish As A "Surprise." On the February 1 edition of The Kelly File, Fox senior political analyst Brit Hume and frequent Fox commentator Stephen Hayes praised Rubio for finishing third, with Hume calling it "the biggest surprise," and Hayes saying it was "the surprise of the evening":

BRIT HUME: On the Republican side, it's pretty clear: [Ted] Cruz made a big effort here, he had a great organization, he's the winner, so he wins. Donald Trump, I think, had a disappointing night and there's no two ways about it. And Marco Rubio -- in terms of percentage points -- had the biggest surprise, so he has lot to take away from here as well.

[...]

STEPHEN HAYES: On the Republican side, I think clearly we now have a three-man race. The scramble in New Hampshire -- to a certain extent -- will be to see if another candidate can make it a four-man race, at least temporarily. But I think very clearly with Ted Cruz's impressive victory here tonight, he is in for the long haul, his campaign is built for the long haul. Donald Trump did have a disappointing night, and we'll see what he can do if he faces more difficult media and I think tougher ads from his opponents. And Marco Rubio, with the surprise of the evening -- a very strong third place -- seems to be in a good position to take over that establishment lane. [Fox News, The Kelly File2/1/16

Brian Kilmeade: "The Guy That Shocked More People" Is The One "Who Came In Third." On the February 2 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade said that Marco Rubio's third place finish was more shocking to people than Ted Cruz's victory:

BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): But perhaps the guy that shocked more people than Ted Cruz, who everyone said would be first or second, is the guy Anna, who came in third.

ANNA KOOIMAN (CO-HOST): Yeah, and that's Marco Rubio with 23 percent, just 1 percent behind Mr. Donald Trump, who had been just leading in so many polls for the last six months, really, and a lot of people are saying Senator Marco Rubio is capitalizing on this momentum and is straddling the lane of the outsider and the establishment, and it's really working for him. [Fox News, Fox & Friends2/2/16]

Fox's Laura Ingraham Calls Rubio's Third Place Finish "Better Than Anyone Expected." On the February 2 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Laura Ingraham lauded Rubio's "great campaign" in Iowa, calling his third place finish "better than anyone expected" and saying "he had a great victory speech for third place":  

BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): So Laura, the one thing that I don't think you're figuring in, you're right on the numbers with the establishment. If you take the so-called establishment candidates, take all the governors' single digit numbers, it doesn't add up. However, in terms of authenticity, they went from good friends to, I hate this guy, he's an anchor baby Canadian. They can't pretend, 'I'm sorry about the last month, now we'll go back to being friends.' The American people, the people of New Hampshire will say there's no authenticity there.

LAURA INGRAHAM: Well, look Nixon worked with China, right, to beat the Soviet Union. I'm not going to say who's Nixon and who's China, Trump/Cruz thing. You work with people if the ultimate goal is to move the country forward in a different direction. If they don't, if Cruz and Trump continue to savage each other, Marco Rubio will be delighted. And he ran a great campaign in Iowa. He had a great victory speech for third place. He did better than anyone expected. He was very positive this morning. He's going to run into that in New Hampshire, which I lived in for four years in New Hampshire,[[.]] and New Hampshire is a tricky place to predict. Just like Iowa. It is not an easy place for someone like Cruz to win. If I'm Cruz, I'm thinking I'm probably not going to win New Hampshire. It's better for Trump to win New Hampshire. So we blunt the Rubio momentum, which you've heard everybody here on this network, other networks, Rubio, Rubio, Rubio, we're going to hear that meme going into New Hampshire and South Carolina, and the donors are going to be putting huge pressure on these other candidates --

KILMEADE: To drop out.

INGRAHAM: From Bush, to Christie, to Kasich to get out of this race and give it to the new face of the Republican Party. Watch for that pressure, that's going to build. [Fox News, Fox & Friends2/2/16]

Huffington Post's Nick Baumann Warns Media: Don't Believe Rubio's Spin, His "Performance In Iowa Doesn't Mean He Won Anything" 

Huffington Post: "Don't Let The Media And Marco Rubio Tell You He 'Won' By Finishing Third In Iowa." In a February 1 Huffington Post article, senior enterprise editor Nick Baumann warned that although Rubio finished third in the Iowa Republican caucuses, "much of the media will tell you that this means he was the real winner." Baumann went on to argue that while reporters know "they're being spun," they shouldn't "take the bait," adding that "Rubio's performance in Iowa doesn't mean he won anything. It just means he still has a chance":

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) finished third in the Iowa Republican caucuses on Monday. His campaign and much of the media will tell you that this means he was the real winner of the first-in-the-nation contest. Don't believe them.

College debater-turned-pro Ted Cruz, the Texas senator whom even other senators hate, won the caucuses. Famed racist and lying liar Donald Trump finished second. Rubio finished third.

The news runs on surprise. People click on stories that surprise them. Things that are expected to happen -- like Trump and Cruz fighting it out for first place in Iowa -- are less surprising. Politicians know this and take advantage of it. Politicos call this the "expectations game" -- setting expectations of your performance at a certain level so that you can do "better than expected" and be the focus of the headlines.

The spin is already happening. "This is the moment they told us would never happen," Rubio said Monday night. "They told me we had no chance." His campaign manager, Alex Conant, struck a similar tune. "This is a big night for us," Conant said. "It's probably a three-person race leaving here. If you don't want Trump or Cruz to be the nominee, you better get on board with Marco Rubio."

Reporters know they're being spun, but they go with it anyway. "It'll annoy Rubio detractors that his expectations management game worked, he overperformed, and it'll have an impact in his coverage," Commentary's Noah Rothman tweeted Friday. Experts expect the press to be played like a fiddle. "We can call this right now: Marco Rubio will be the flavor of the week," election law expert Rick Hasen tweeted Monday.

The press doesn't have to -- and shouldn't -- take the bait.

[...]

Rubio could very well be the Republican nominee. He will likely be able to sign up more major donors and score a few endorsements by citing his Iowa results. And he'll have at least one fewer opponent to worry about: Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, suspended his campaign Monday night. But Rubio's performance in Iowa doesn't mean he won anything. It just means he still has a chance. [Huffington Post, 2/1/2016

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.