Marco Rubio: Let's face it, Ted Cruz is the only conservative left in this race

The more I think about it the more I like my idea of Rubio endorsing Cruz on Monday night, when Fox will suddenly have a bunch of open airtime thanks to the debate cancellation. Hold a joint rally in Salt Lake City or Phoenix, invite all the networks, and let ‘er rip.

This isn’t an endorsement but it’s about as close as you can get without taking the plunge.

Former presidential candidate Marco Rubio told a group of Minnesota supporters Wednesday he is hoping one of the remaining candidates for president will stop Donald Trump from winning the Republican nomination — and that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz could be the best option for conservatives…

“Winning a general election with a nominee that a significant percentage of the base thinks stole it, even though you did it through the rules of the RNC, would be pretty much fatal for the party,” Rubio said, though he added that many Republicans will not vote for Trump, either…

He didn’t endorse either Texas Sen. Ted Cruz or Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the two other remaining candidates. But Rubio praised Cruz as “the only conservative left in the race.”

The argument for holding off on the Rubio endorsement at least until next Wednesday is that Cruz is trying to catch Trump in Arizona, which votes on Tuesday. Why would you want a member of the Gang of Eight making a splash for you the night before a state famous for its Republican-backed restrictive immigration law votes? Well, here’s one reason:

Among Republicans, Trump leads with 31 percent. The business mogul has led in other Arizona surveys.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is second with 19 percent followed by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. They each get 10 percent. Thirty percent of Republicans planning to vote in the Arizona primary are undecided, according to Merrill.

Some, and likely most, of Rubio’s 10 percent is going to Cruz anyway but a buzzworthy endorsement would probably push more of it to him. It might make a dent with Kasich’s supporters and undecideds too: Rubio has been by far the most eloquent spokesman for the right’s “Stop Trump” faction over the last week, even more so than Cruz himself. Making the case to Arizonans in person could help move the needle further. The state looks like enough of a longshot that Cruz really has nothing to lose with the endorsement. Trump is up double digits in multiple polls there, many Arizonans have already voted early, and, er, Cruz probably can’t stop Trump anyway so long as Kasich is in the race. Might as well start taking risks. Rubio’s endorsement is a minor one with lots of upside.

Here’s an idea: What if … McCain endorsed Cruz? Is that feasible before Tuesday (or after Tuesday)? Two weeks ago I would have said “Wut?” but McCain’s BFF, Lindsey Graham, has been conspicuous lately among establishmentarians in insisting that the party may need to suck it up and rally to Cruz in the interest of stopping Trump. Endorsing Cruz would also blunt some of the tea-party attacks McCain will be facing in his Senate primary later this year, which means it could pay immediate political dividends for him. And of course McCain owes Trump some payback after Trump’s insulting “I like people who weren’t captured” crack last summer. There’d also be powerful symbolism in a former party nominee, forever derided by the right as a RINO, sucking up his pride and backing a candidate whom he obviously disdains because the alternative would be bad for his country. Duty has always had strong appeal to McCain; endorsing the “wacko bird” to help block a vulgar authoritarian from the presidency should be right up his alley. The obvious answer to all of that is that the last thing Cruz needs is a bunch of establishmentarians watering down his populist brand, but I think the situation is sufficiently critical now that Cruz can’t worry much about that. He’s going to need centrist votes in the states to come and projecting party unity in support of his candidacy is one way to try to do that. He’s down by two touchdowns with five minutes to play. He needs to throw long, even if that increases the risk of an interception.

And all of the above applies to Romney as well. Just this morning news broke that former Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt, part of Romney’s inner circle, is preparing to endorse … Kasich, a disaster for Cruz given that it raises the odds he’ll be denied the 50 percent threshold he needs in Utah next week to make it winner-take-all. Romney could counteract that by holding his nose and endorsing Cruz there, but maybe he doesn’t want to. Maybe, with Kasich hanging around now, dopey centrist Republicans are going to back him instead of Cruz and hand the nomination to Trump in the process. (Romney campaigned with Kasich last week without endorsing him, although his praise for Kasich sounded endorsement-ish.) McCain and Kasich have known each other a long time and several top Kasich advisors this year are McCain campaign alums, so maybe he’s destined to go that route too. We’ll find out soon which big-name Republicans are really trying to stop Trump and which are just making noise.

Update: Cruz/Rubio ticket this year? Nope:

Update: Well, now I’ve seen everything.

In a sign of just how much the Republican presidential primary has turned the party on its head, Sen. Lindsey Graham will host a fundraiser on Monday in support of Sen. Ted Cruz.

A draft of the invitation, obtained first by CNN, invites guests to “honor and support a great friend of Israel and the Jewish people,” at a meet-and-greet event that will take place during the AIPAC policy conference in Washington next week.

We’re at a strange moment when Lindsey Graham is willing to step up for Ted Cruz while dozens upon dozens of other Republicans in Congress hold back. Per one senior GOP aide, “Look, I get it. There’s only practical downside to bad-mouthing Trump. You’ll get tons of angry phone calls from constituents saying, ‘How dare you?’ But we’re past the point of taking that into consideration right now. We should be more willing to lose our jobs here rather than lose our party to Trump.”