FiveThirtyEight’s endorsement tracker has a new Republican leader for the first time in nearly six months: Marco Rubio, who, since his surprisingly strong third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses Monday, has received endorsements from two senators and two representatives.
There has been a lot of debate this presidential campaign about how much influence party elites have on the nominating process, but endorsements have historically been among the best signs of which candidates will succeed in primaries. And although four more endorsements and a slight lead in points1 do not make Rubio a lock as the choice of Republican elected officials, this bump is a sign that members of Congress could be starting to see him as the most acceptable option for the nomination.
After outperforming expectations in Iowa, Marco Rubio’s operation has pulled in more than $2 million in online contributions, according to multiple sources familiar with his finance operation. The contributions were largely from small donors, but also included some larger contributions.
“There has been an enormous uptick in online fundraising,” said one Rubio insider. “Peer-to-peer solicitation is also experiencing dramatic growth.”…
One Rubio national finance committee member said over the past two days they had been contacted by multiple potential super PAC contributors and also had roughly a dozen donors reach out about wanting to give to the official campaign.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. employees gave $107,000 to Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign in the final three months of the year, a 50 percent jump from the previous two quarters, as support for Jeb Bush faded.
The contributions mark a shift at the investment bank, where employees gave a combined $773,000 to Bush’s campaign committee, leadership PAC and the super-PAC backing him since the opening months of the campaign. In the fourth quarter, Bush only got two contributions from Goldman Sachs donors, totaling $2,950. The firm ranks among the 15 biggest donors to federal candidates and committees dating back to 2001, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
It was a moment the polls had not predicted, and a scenario that Rubio’s advisers had intentionally waved off in the days before the caucuses, when they told reporters they were hoping to reach the high teens.
And so, while Cruz may have won the caucuses, which he needed to do, Rubio did something his campaign considers more important: He defied expectations.
Rubio and his team worked deliberately to keep expectations in check in the days leading up to the caucuses. “I’m just trying to get as many people to caucus for me as possible,” Rubio said Saturday afternoon in Ames. There was no public pushback when the final — and famously accurate — Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll was released that afternoon showing Rubio in a distant third place with 15 percent of the vote.
Whereas Cruz had publicly defined success as victory in Iowa, Rubio’s team had carefully described it in relative terms. His campaign has maddened onlookers by refusing to pour resources into a single state or to declare any single contest a must-win matchup. In Iowa, it made clear that finishing fourth in Iowa behind Ben Carson would be a blow; moving on to New Hampshire, his advisers are adamant that he must outperform such establishment candidates as Jeb Bush and Chris Christie.
— Steven Rattner (@SteveRattner) February 3, 2016
I too find it fascinating—and impressive—that Rubio’s team was able to convince so much of the operative and pundit class that a third-place finish in Iowa had effectively landed him the nomination. Part of it is that this seems like the sort of thing that should be happening according to the rules of Republican presidential nominating: Voters fiddle around with outsider candidates for a time, but a more broadly acceptable, electable figure picks up traction once voters begin to cast ballots. Rubio’s last-minute rise in Iowa offers the beginning of a narrative that makes sense to the political world after a six-month period that made very little sense at all…
Rubio got the result that Right to Rise was spending millions of dollars to prevent him from getting. Rubio did better, really: He didn’t just get third, he got a strong third that was nearly a second.
The expectations game may be silly in the abstract, but it concretizes if there’s real money behind it. Right to Rise formalized Rubio’s standard by throwing a lot of money behind its position, and now Rubio is collecting his winnings. That he prospered against such an onslaught of negative ads in the closing stretch also helps Rubio counter the impression that he’s a lightweight, another of the approaches Bush (and Christie) are hoping will counter his rise.
Presidential nominations are a lot like the stock market. In the long run, they’re reasonably well governed by the fundamentals. In the short run, they can be crazy. Iowa represented the equivalent of a stock market correction, a sign that sanity might prevail after all.
In the stock market, the fundamentals consist of things like the profitability and growth of a company. In the nomination process, the most important fundamentals are what we call electability (can the candidate win in November?) and ideological fit (does the candidate hold positions in line with the consensus of her party?). A party would prefer to nominate a candidate who scores well in both categories.
Rubio fits the bill, perhaps uniquely among the remaining Republican candidates. His image with general election voters is not great, but it’s better than the other leading Republicans. He’s also quite conservative. That’s convenient, because Republican voters are quite conservative also. In fact, Rubio is almost exactly as conservative as the average GOP primary voter.
By contrast, Trump is problematic in both categories. It’s not always clear what Trump believes or where he would wind up as a general election candidate, but he hasn’t been particularly conservative for most of his career. His electability case isn’t good either; instead he has an extremely negative image among general election voters. If Rubio is a blue-chip stock, Trump is a risky mortgage-backed security.
First, Rubio must perform strongly in New Hampshire next week. Even more importantly, all the other candidates you used to like must perform poorly. If, hypothetically, John Kasich or Chris Christie rather than Marco Rubio finishes a strong second to Donald Trump, Rubio’s future as the Great Establishment Hope would suddenly look a lot less hopeful.
Then, in the days after New Hampshire votes, all the other candidates you used to like must rapidly withdraw gracefully from the field. No more calling Rubio “the boy in the bubble!” Jeb Bush’s people, in particular must somehow stifle their resentment and rage, and refrain from spending their remaining $50 million of super-PAC funds to remind South Carolina voters of Rubio’s past (and likely future) support for higher levels of immigration…
You must also somehow persuade Donald Trump to exit the race quietly, rather than smash all the scenery on his way off the stage. Every time he attacks Rubio (and you!) for planning to leave Obamacare beneficiaries dying in the streets, he’s providing material for devastating Hillary Clinton attack ads in the fall. Somebody has to cajole and coax Trump into feeling that the real winners are those who know when to quit…
Finally, you’re going to need a plan for Rubio himself. He’s convinced you that he’s a candidate of deep foreign-policy wisdom. That self-presentation may be tough to sustain in a general-election race against Hillary Clinton, especially when she pounds home the message that a vote for Rubio is a vote for more wars in the Middle East and millions of health-insurance cancellations at home. What’s he going to say in reply? Personal biography only goes so far in presidential politics, otherwise Bob Dole and John McCain would have completed two terms each.
He surged by borrowing Trump’s message while pledging to more effectively package it. In the final weeks before Iowa, Rubio grew markedly more anti-immigration. Having previously warned against using terrorism as a pretext to restrict legal immigration, the Florida senator in mid-January declared that because of the rise of ISIS, “the entire system of legal immigration must now be reexamined for security first and foremost.” He also followed Trump’s lead on trade, suggesting that he might oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement he had once praised.
Rubio echoed Trump when it came to the rights of Muslims, too. Asked in a January debate about Trump’s call for banning Muslim immigration, Rubio praised the billionaire for having “tapped in to some of that anger that’s out there about this whole issue because this president has consistently underestimated the threat of ISIS.” Then, after talking about how awful ISIS is, Rubio declared that, “When I’m president. If we do not know who you are, and we do not know why you are coming when I am president, you are not getting into the United States of America.” The listener who didn’t already know Rubio’s position might well have thought he supports Trump’s plan. When asked about Trump’s call for closing mosques, Rubio did Trump one better, declaring that, “It’s not about closing down mosques. It’s about closing down any place—whether it’s a cafe, a diner, an Internet site—any place where radicals are being inspired.”
Rubio also began hinting that President Obama was a kind of traitor. “Barack Obama,” he warned darkly, “has deliberately weakened America.” He wants to “cut [America] down to size.” And having once pitched himself as a bridge between the GOP and the changing face of twenty-first century America, Rubio instead began appealing to “all of us who feel out of place in our own country.”…
Trump may have lost in Iowa but Trumpism won. The fact that the moderate in the GOP race is now peddling a version of The Donald’s message testifies to how profound his effect has been.
Christie is blasting away at Rubio in New Hampshire already, calling him “the boy in the bubble”. Rubio fired back. “Chris has had a tough couple of days,” Rubio said in an interview with ABC News at Puritan Backroom restaurant. “He’s not doing very well, and he did very poorly in Iowa. And sometimes when people run into adversity they don’t react well and they say things they maybe will later regret.”
Kasich’s campaign accused him of having no record. And Bush, who’s been spending millions against Rubio, took out a full page ad in the Union Leader which suggested Rubio was likable enough, but not ready for the job. The three have certainly invested a lot more time in the state than Rubio – the NECN candidate tracker shows Kasich at 180 events in the state, Christie at 176, and Bush at 106 to Rubio’s 76 – just one more than Ted Cruz.
The risk here for Rubio is that he’s already laid out his strategy: 3-2-1. Finish 3rd in Iowa, 2nd in New Hampshire, and 1st in South Carolina in order to win the nomination. If Rubio does achieve that, he’ll be the new frontrunner. But the risk entailed in being so explicit about what you think you need to achieve to win is how much importance it puts on the early states.
Rubio has the capability to tap into a coalition that would lead to the nomination along a much longer timeline – just as Romney did despite losing Iowa and South Carolina. Instead, he’s making a play that makes him much more of a target, in an effort to crowd out all the other “establishment” candidates early on and consolidate support in Washington and among the donor community.
The other reason that Rubio-mania will take off is less inspiring. Rallying around Rubio will just be too strong a temptation for the GOP’s elite and the most established organs of the conservative movement. Rubio’s candidacy is essentially based on the premise that nothing from the George W. Bush era has to change for the Republican Party.
Nominating Rubio is a statement that the party does not need a course correction. It doesn’t need to stand even more firmly with social conservatives or fight with greater zeal and brinksmanship, as Cruz has argued. Nominating Rubio is a statement that the party does not need to find a less aggressive or less interventionist foreign policy, as Trump, Rand Paul, and (to a lesser degree) Cruz have argued. Nominating Rubio is a statement that the party does not need to offer any policy changes to attract working-class whites, as the candidacies of Trump, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum have, to varying degrees, suggested. Instead, they just have to offer Rubio’s story of gumption and rising from under his working-class parents’ knees.
Rubio promises to put ground troops in Syria. He offers a very large tax cut to families earning six figures, paid for in expanding deficits. His record on immigration is really not very different than George W. Bush’s: a series of unconvincing promises to gain control of America’s border, combined with a credible threat to radically expand legal immigration, and create a path to citizenship for millions who entered the nation illegally.
Most of the things that distinguish Rubio from his party are unpopular with the public, namely his support for comprehensive immigration reform and his extremely hawkish foreign policy. But these are very popular with the GOP’s elites, and not at all hard to swallow for most conservative elites. Rubio-mania is practically guaranteed. He’s the candidate of the future, after all. The GOP is just telling us the future looks exactly like the last Bush administration.
“He says you’re too scripted. You are very smooth.” Kelly agreed, describing his speech after the Iowa caucuses as “amazing.”
“You were so articulate, there was no teleprompter,” she added. “To those who say ‘Oh, he’s scripted’ — Is that scripted or is that just how you talk?”