Once polls closed on Tuesday night and it became obvious that Marco Rubio would not receive the blessing of the voters of New Hampshire, the Florida senator spoke to a group of enthusiastic supporters -- and offered an unusual mea culpa.
"I know many people are disappointed. I'm disappointed with tonight. I want you to understand -- but I want you to understand something," he said. "Our disappointment tonight is not on you. It's on me."
"I did not do well on Saturday night, so listen to this," he continued, pointing for emphasis. "That will never happen again."
Saturday night, of course, was the Republican debate during which Rubio handled a confrontation with Chris Christie poorly -- or, depending on your willingness to be generous to Rubio, disastrously. Christie attacked Rubio for employing scripted lines of attack, prompting Rubio to reply robotically with ... a scripted line of attack.
Let's just say that Christie noticed.
The confrontation was rough, but it wasn't clear that Rubio would suffer in New Hampshire. In a daily tracking poll from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell/7 News, Rubio saw a surge in support in the state after his strong finish in Iowa. Even before the debate, though, that had slowed -- and in the only poll after the debate, Rubio's slip was modest.
By the time most of the votes were in on Tuesday night, though, the decline was sharper. The day after Iowa, UMass/7 News had Rubio at 10 percent. In the actual vote, that's about where Rubio landed.
The last-minute surge in Iowa was Rubio's. In New Hampshire, it was John Kasich's. The governor of Ohio floated around in the middle of the pack most of the week, but appeared to be rising as voting approached. Kasich ended in a very strong second. Rubio finished (it seems as of writing) in a very wan fifth.
Rubio spent the week denying that his debate performance had hurt him, even as guys in grade-school-quality robot suits followed him around pestering him and his supporters. (At least one New Hampshirite, put off by the ruckus surrounding Rubio, decided to vote for someone else.) On Tuesday night, though, Rubio changed course.
When New Hampshire voters were asked about the decisions they made in the polling booth, people who said that the recent debates were important in deciding their vote were indeed less likely to support Rubio than those who said the debates weren't important.
But this is matching debate importance against support of Rubio. We can also see that Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Rubio's tormentor, Chris Christie, all had more support from people who said the debates made a difference than from those who said they didn't.
We can't compare this data to a world in which Saturday didn't happen, so we can only say that this looks the way you might expect if the debate hurt Rubio: One-time Rubio fans bailing to Kasich, Christie and Bush because the debates changed their mind.
It's also worth noting that, in that UMass-Lowell/7 News poll, Rubio's support was soft. More of his supporters over the course of the week said they could be open to changing their minds than most other candidates.
Voters who made up their minds closer to election day were more likely to choose Kasich than most other candidates. Rubio's share of the support from voters who made up their minds in the last few days before the election was smaller than those who'd made up their minds about a month before.
Kasich's was far larger. Among those deciding on election day itself, Donald Trump got the most support. Rubio, Christie, Bush and Ted Cruz were all about even.
We can say pretty conclusively that a look at polls in New Hampshire on the day of the Iowa caucuses (when Rubio had an average of 9.5 percent) and a look at the final result would suggest that Rubio had no bump during the last week -- or that, if he did, the tide went out as suddenly as it came in.
Rubio was the favorite target of other people in that middle tier over the week, which was precisely why Christie went after him. Maybe that, as much as the debate, was what New Hampshire was reacting to, if it was reacting to anything.
Rubio's speech on Tuesday night may have been wrong. But it was purposeful. Rubio recognized that he did badly in New Hampshire, and, in front of his supporters, pointed to the broken part of his campaign that he said had caused it.
"I will remove this broken part," he said, in essence, "and everything will be fine." The crowd cheered! That was the only problem, and that problem will go away. Maybe the Rubio machine just had that one faulty gear, and Rubio will spring back, good as new. Or perhaps it is crumpling before our eyes, and that one part wasn't the problem at all.
It's likely that only Rubio knows for sure.