“Are you going out, sir?”

“I’m going to the bar, out in the foyer.”

“OK, I’m gonna stamp your hand, and you need to come back in through this door number four.”

“To go to the bar?”

“That’s how we’re running it.”

“Or not running it …”

By their victory parties ye shall know them. This was the Marco Rubio gig at the Radisson, in the ballroom, and favoured by the meeja because it was within staggering distance of the foyer. Team Rubio had booked it post-Iowa, in the clear expectation that they would be celebrating a “victory” here — either second or third, behind Trump and possibly Kasich, but clearly ahead of Bush, Cruz and Christie, and thus deserving of the mantle of the establishment candidate.

It was not to be. Marco, the boy senator, was cactus from the debate onwards, with his robotic rote-response –“‘President Obama wants to change this country” — which he couldn’t seem to snap out of. By the last day of the campgain, kids were following him around in hastily made robot costumes, cardboard boxes with arm holes and colanders on their heads, talking about Marco Robotio, etc. They didn’t look like they were rival Republican operatives. They were just New Hampshire slackers, piling on.

So was the press, now. From Saturday, the Rubio victory gig had become a deathwatch, and the numbers had increased. Now it had become that most delicious of events, the party-for-a-disaster. What would the boy senator do? Quote Churchill? Curse these northern gringos? Break down crying “my papa was such a dumb paysan, that’s why I failed?” Praise Castro? The ballroom air was thick with anticipation in the press section.

In the main room too, but for different reasons. These people, the Rubio crowd, a real mix, from suited Republican establishment to the ragged waifs and strays in bobble hats and Walmart denim, a lot of Latinos who weren’t from round these parts, hadn’t yet got the memo, the tweet, the telex, the fax, they hadn’t smelt the burning. Their candidate was toast, but they didn’t see it. “Oh, he has such a great story. He’s the best of America,” a 60-something woman, Jean, bobble-hatted, told me. From Nashua, 30 miles south, she’d got a ride, because “my car’s out and I can’t get it fixed just yet”.

Like many of the Rubio crowd, there was no hate in her, as you’ll find aplenty among Cruz and Trump supporters, simply a feeling that the country was very lost. Marco represented the best of the country, or its imaginary idea of itself, and so she had gone for him. Rubio has no answers either, no policies, he simply stands as a symbol of what the country might be. “I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t vote for him,” she said. Over her shoulder, on the giant screens, they were showing Fox News, which was streaming vision from the Trump celebrations, which looked like the foyer of a cinema hosting a Rocky Horror Picture Show evening. Jean was soon to be disappointed. They weren’t.

When the results started to come through, it was immediately clear that Rubio was lost in the pack, around 10%. Trump was in the mid-30s, Kasich around the mid-teens and Cruz, Bush and Rubio hovering around 10%. (There it stayed. The final lead results were: Trump 35%, Kasich 16%, Cruz 11.8%, Bush 11%, Rubio 10.6%). There was a low moan in the room. Even if Rubio nudged ahead now, he wouldn’t catch Kasich. And he hadn’t dispatched Cruz or Jeb to single figures. It was exactly what anyone who’d been paying attention thought — except my old kaffeeklatscher Bill Kristol, who prophesied that Rubio would get 26, Trump 19 — but the people here were in a bubble (a bubble you needed a pass-out from to get to the bar). The only bright spot for them was when file footage of Christie came on, above the figure 7%. The goombah gone bye-bye. They roared at that. “Yeah yeah!”, a poor consolation.

When the boy senator bounded on stage later, he was ebullient, but shaky. How was he going to handle this disaster? There were people in the front row crying. He knows he’s not gone, but he’s in trouble. There’s a slight flutter in one hand, he calms it by grabbing the lectern. In Corncord Bernie is giving a 40-minute victory speech, with an appeal for donations in the middle of it. It was his full stump speech, the networks carried it in full. The appeal got him $5.2 million. Trump is at the Executive Banquet Suite, taunting. Rubio says: “I want you to know we didn’t win, but this isn’t your fault. I had a bad night Saturday night and that will never happen again!” He’s got ’em back. And on we go.

Except for Christie and Fiorina, who have announced that they’re out. Wacky Ben Carson rides on, with 2%. And everyone is now coming to terms with the fact that the polls on Trump’s support are dead accurate, that Bernie has shattered Hillary’s image of inevitability. Bernie won’t win. Trump may well.

Peter Fray

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