Is Rubio tough enough to take on Trump?
© Greg Nash

Right now, the political class probably feels like Shooter McGavin did when Happy Gilmore joined the pro tour and brought a brand-new demographic of fans out to the golf course. In the movie, antagonist and "establishment" golfer Shooter McGavin complains, "I saw two big fat naked bikers in the woods off 17 having sex. How am I supposed to chip with that going on?" That pretty much sums up what it's like to run for the Republican nomination against Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAssange meets U.S. congressman, vows to prove Russia did not leak him documents A history lesson on the Confederacy for President Trump GOP senator: Trump hasn't 'changed much' since campaign MORE.

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Conventional pundit wisdom states that with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's withdrawal from the race, Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioScarborough: Trump has chosen the 'wrong side' THE MEMO: Trump reignites race firestorm RNC spokeswoman: GOP stands behind Trump's message 'of love and inclusiveness' MORE (Fla.) will now be best positioned to challenge front-runner Trump. Makes sense. The small percentage of Republicans who supported Bush while his campaign's altimeter spun wildly counterclockwise would certainly be unlikely to embrace the man who shot him down. They may support Ohio Gov. John Kasich now, but if they do, they'll be shopping around again in no time. Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzThe media couldn't be more blatant in distorting Trump's words on Charlottesville Curtis wins GOP primary for House seat vacated by Jason Chaffetz Kimmel: Let’s make Trump a king so he has no power MORE (Texas) is an option, but ideologically they'd have to leapfrog Rubio to get to Cruz. I think it's safe to say, no matter how many anti-Rubio Right to Rise ads Bush supporters have seen, Rubio is the clearest beneficiary of Bush's withdrawal.

But the problem with conventional pundit wisdom is that it has never applied to Trump, who adds a completely new dimension to election analysis, and the only historical reference we have for examining that new dimension is the past eight months. So, what is the big takeaway from the past eight months?

Being seen as the main threat to Trump is a nightmare-come-true scenario akin to finding yourself at the wrong end of a shooting range.

When Trump entered the race, now-defunct Republican candidates Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker topped the polls. Walker was the easiest mark for Trump to destroy. Chris Cillizza wrote in an excellent analysis of Walker's demise that "Walker took the brunt of the Trump assault; he went from relevant national contender to non-existent."

But Trump came out swinging hardest at Bush, branding him as "low energy" despite the exciting punctuation mark in his logo, and never let up. Trump trapped Bush in a corner and pummeled him right into the bottom tier of candidates.

And everyone remembers Nov. 6, 2015, right? That was the one and only day between today and last July that any candidate passed Trump in the RealClearPolitics national average of the polls. Unfortunately for Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonBen Carson: ‘Be neighborly’ to fight racism OPINION | This country sorely needs leadership after Charlottesville OPINION | This is no time for moral midgetry in Charlottesville MORE, he was that candidate. Trump went after him hard. For several days, you couldn't turn on the news without seeing the clip of Trump in Fort Dodge, Iowa delivering a comedic dramatization of the stabbing story from Carson's book. He said Carson had a "pathological disease" and compared him to a "child molester." By December, Trump’s lead over Carson was once again near double digits.

If recent history teaches us anything, Trump is about to go after Rubio with a fury that will have Rubio missing the days when those Right to Rise ads were his biggest problem. We already saw New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie knock Rubio to the mat in New Hampshire by attacking Rubio on his prepared response to the question of his inexperience. Expect Trump to take the attacks a step farther than Christie did. He'll go after Rubio on substantive issue like his super-PAC, his donors, his Gang of Eight immigration debacle, and his inexperience. He'll attack Rubio on nonsubstantive matters like his high-heeled boots and his infamous sip of water. He may even venture off into fiction-land for attacks not yet dreamed of. If he is to survive, Rubio better have learned something from his failure in the New Hampshire debate because Trump won't use a pinprick attack like Christie's; Trump will deliver shock and awe.

With Bush tapping out, Rubio is the candidate best positioned to challenge Trump on Super Tuesday, but best positioned — in this election — may be the worst position of all.

Zipperer is assistant professor of political science at Georgia Military College.