Marco Robato: How Christie Killed The Kid

Of the plethora of plays being run in presidential debates, it's hard to ignore the game and gamesmanship now surrounding Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) -- not only the plays he's run himself but the counterstrategies that have ensnared him. Here's a quick dissection for the uninitiated:

Hoping last night to consolidate his Iowa gains and keep foes at bay, Rubio went suddenly off-script with this atypical take on Barack Obama: "And let's dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing," Rubio hissed.

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The senator might have echoed Donald Trump's derisions of Obama stupidity, but Rubio was sounding a new alarm by presenting the president as an enemy of the state, or at least the GOP. Not simply a bumbler-in-chief. By way of the counter-intuitive bear hug, he credited Obama for his intelligence, but then, having set the jarring premise, employed two additional plays -- the recast and ping - to suggest that Obama's motives are un-American, even sinister. "Barack Obama is undertaking a systematic effort to change this country," Rubio drummed, citing Obamacare, the stimulus, Dodd-Frank reform, and the Iran nuclear deal.

Of course, the plays backfired. Not for praising a democratic president, but for these reasons:

-- Rubio ran the line far too many times, giving New Jersey Governor Chris Christie the opportunity to mock him as an auto-repeating robot. Indeed, the label, Marco Roboto, was immediately memed.

-- His bear hug of Obama was taken as a dodge of his fragile senate record. Pressed by moderators, Jeb Bush and again Christi, Rubio pivoted to his theory of a conniving and dangerous POTUS. No dice. He was quickly called out, not only for his redundancy and rehearsed rhetoric but for an obvious side-step of a glaring short-coming.

The bear hug is one of five freezing plays, dead-center in The Standard Table of Influence. It's designed to stop some aspect of what we call play action, in this case a trio of rival republican governors looking to expose a vulnerable candidate. Bear hugs are risky because they flatter what is typically a foe. But when followed with a recast, this play of overt embrace gives huggers the chance to briefly revise or subtly revile the targeted player's position.

Marco Rubio's bear hug might have worked if presented as a purely offensive push and not in response to rhetorical fire. But the youthful Rubio never had the ball, per se, and what he figured would be a clever stab at a new narrative was a license to cripple, maybe kill, his candidacy.

Graphic courtesy of Playmaker Systems, LLC, with content from Chris Christie's Facebook.