It hasn't been a good month for Marco Rubio.
First, he ran into Chris Christie. For his 2016 curtain call, the New Jersey governor eviscerated Rubio at a New Hampshire debate before bowing out of the race. Christie painted the Florida senator as a thoughtless automaton, capable only of repeating pre-programmed talking points. Automaton or not, Christie knew exactly which of Rubio's buttons to push ahead of the New Hampshire primaries.
Then came Timothy Kierstead. On Feb. 8, just a few days after Christie made Rubio look like a character from Futurama, the candidate walked into a diner in Manchester, New Hampshire. It was a typical campaign stop -- shake a few hands, get a few good photos of the candidate looking thoughtful while talking to voters.
Kierstead had other ideas.
“Why do you want to put me back in the closet?” Kierstead asked Rubio, according to the New York Times.
Again, the Republican hopeful stumbled, as if he'd never anticipated that kind of question. Just like he did in his exchange with Chris Christie, Rubio repeated himself, telling Kierstead several times that "marriage is between one man and one woman.”
Then he seemed to forget that gay marriage is now legal in all 50 states and, unable to come up with a good retort, just walked away. Needless to say, he didn't do well in New Hampshire.
If Marco Rubio can't win debates against his competition, he's in serious trouble. If Rubio can't win debates against regular voters, he's done.
Still, the 2016 Republican primaries aren't decided yet. Donald Trump's victory looks imminent, but it's not a mathematical certainty.
Rubio still has a chance, but he has to become a different candidate -- no more stumbling or stuttering, or showing up unprepared. His campaign team needs to anticipate every question that could be posed to the Florida senator, and get him a strong cup of coffee before sending him out to debate again.
Just as crucially, Rubio has to win in his home state. Ideally for Rubio, he'll win Florida and finish a strong second in Texas and Ohio, the home states of GOP hopefuls Ted Cruz and John Kasich, respectively.
If Trump wins all three of his opponents' home states, it's over. Even if the delegate count is close, the psychological and perceptual damage to a candidate who can't win his home state is enough to destroy a campaign. With polls showing Trump up by 16 points in Florida, Rubio has his work cut out for him.
At the same time, Rubio needs Cruz or Kasich -- or ideally, both -- to bow out of the race and consolidate their support. He'll need to convince voters he's the only candidate who can beat Trump, and rally the rest of the GOP around his campaign.
So no, it's not over for Marco Rubio. There's life left in his campaign. But like a sports team that can only make the playoffs if another team loses, Rubio's path to victory is no longer entirely in his own hands. Not only does he need to be perfect, he needs the other candidates to make mistakes.
If that doesn't happen, voters could be reading the Rubio campaign's obituary in less than a month.