Devastating for Rubio and not just because he’s now closer to Cruz’s third-place total (17 percent) than he is to Trump’s tally (44 percent). The last Monmouth poll a week ago made a splash in righty media because it showed Rubio up big among early voters. That wasn’t supposed to happen; it’s Trump’s fans who are famously enthusiastic and who should therefore be dominating the early vote. The fact that Rubio was ahead among that group was the best evidence yet that an upset might be brewing.
A week later, that’s gone. Rubio did lead among (very) early voters, Monmouth insists, but a lot can change in a week.
As more Florida voters cast their ballots in the past week, Rubio lost the lead he once held among early voters. One-third of the state’s likely GOP electorate reports already voting for president. Donald Trump has a 43% to 32% advantage among these early voters. Rubio actually had the lead a week ago, when only one-fifth of the electorate had already voted.
A week ago, just 11% of Trump supporters had voted early compared to 30% of Rubio supporters. Currently, 34% of Trump’s backers say they have already cast their vote and another 42% say they are completely set on their choice for Tuesday. Among Rubio’s backers, 42% have already voted, with another 26% who are absolutely certain they will stick with this choice on Tuesday.
Is that why Trump’s lead increased, because a wave of early voters suddenly showed up for him? Or is there more to it?
The three trailing candidates all called out the frontrunner after violence broke out at a planned Trump rally in Chicago Friday night. Poll respondents interviewed on Saturday and Sunday were asked how that incident affected their vote intentions. Most (66%) say it had no impact on their support. However, twice as many said it made them more likely (22%) rather than less likely (11%) to support Trump. Additionally, Monmouth pollsters found that Trump’s lead in Florida increased with each night of interviewing, although it is not clear whether this was directly related to the events in Chicago or other factors in the campaign’s final days, such as advertising.
I’d guess that watching lefties shut down Trump’s Chicago rally mostly served to further solidify support among people who were already planning to vote Trump — but only mostly. Some undecideds must have shaken loose too. The left’s going to learn sooner or later that confronting Trump in thuggish ways is the surest route to getting righties to unify behind him. If he wins Florida big tomorrow night, as he seems poised to do, you’ll hear about that in the analysis afterward. If he wins Ohio and Missouri and Illinois too, especially if his margins are surprising, you’ll hear a lot about it. Some liberals are already trying to warn the left to stand down, but I don’t know if it’ll work. With Bernie Sanders’s path less likely now, they need a way to channel their energy. What could be more productive than electing Donald Trump president instead?
Trump now leads by no less than 17 points in each of the last eight polls taken in Florida. Rubio’s not exactly unpopular — 59 percent of Republicans in Florida say they approve at least “somewhat” of the job he’s doing — but he’s only moderately favored over Trump among that group whereas those who disapprove of his performance are overwhelmingly pro-Trump. That’s the difference between Rubio’s fate in Florida, I think, and Cruz’s fate in Texas. Texans are simply more satisfied with Cruz. Rubio’s going to spend a hard year after this wondering how, in a closed primary, he alienated enough of his own party’s voters to make this a blowout for some RINO authoritarian. In fact, just to test whether Cruz’s role in the race was holding Rubio back, Monmouth polled him head-to-head with Trump. Result: Trump 54, Rubio 39. By comparison, head to head with Cruz, Trump’s lead shrinks to 48/40. That’s how bad it is for Marco back home: Even knocking Cruz out of the race there doesn’t help him.. Who could have guessed even six weeks ago that John farking Kasich, not Rubio or even Jeb Bush, would be anti-Trumpers’ last best hope of denying Trump a delegate windfall on March 15th?
One more thing worth noting from the Monmouth poll, though. A combined 21 percent of Florida Republicans say that if Trump is the nominee they’ll either stay home, vote third-party, or vote Hillary in the general election. Another five percent are undecided. The #NeverTrump contingent isn’t dangerous to Trump so long as it’s mostly confined to red states, where he’ll win regardless even if it’s with a smaller margin than Romney enjoyed in 2012. In Florida, though, it’s potentially lethal given the state’s almost unique status as must-win. It’s worth re-reading this old post from last year about how many electoral votes Democrats have piled up in reliably blue states over the last few decades. All Hillary needs to do to win the election is hold the states that have gone blue in each cycle dating back to 1992 (along with New Mexico, which went blue in all of them except 2004) and win Florida and she’s over the 270 EV threshold. Some #NeverTrumpers will eventually back Trump and some Democrats will choose Trump over Hillary, blunting his problem here, but it is a problem. The only question is how big.
As for Rubio, I’m curious to see how he’ll spend the next six months after he drops out this week. He’ll be under heavy pressure to endorse Cruz and probably will, maybe even campaigning for him — but what if Cruz can’t hold off Trump and we end up with the latter as nominee? Does Rubio keep his pledge or does he break it? If you missed his 13-minute press conference this weekend addressing Trump and the violence at his rallies, watch it now and you’ll see it’s basically impossible to believe Rubio will endorse Trump this fall. What he might do, per his presser, is end up as an unusually eloquent voice urging conservatives to stay home or go third-party. (A third party led by someone else, that is, not by him.) The risk if he does that is that it’ll ruin his chance to run for governor in 2018: Imagine if Trump loses Florida narrowly and thus the election after native son Marco Rubio convinces enough Republicans that it’s unconscionable to support him. Party leaders will never forgive him. Is he prepared to risk his political future by signing up with #NeverTrump or will he sit it out?