Nothing signals that you’re on the brink of a campaign-reviving win in your home state like having someone on the inside whispering to the media that maybe you should be an ex-candidate.
Team Marco and its many supporters are screaming on Twitter that this story is BS. Before today’s Monmouth poll showing Rubio up big among early voters in Florida, I would have dismissed that as spin. As it is, hmmmm.
Rubio himself is “bullish” on his odds of winning the critical primary, despite some advisers who are less hopeful and believe a loss there would damage him politically in both the short- and long-term…
“He doesn’t want to get killed in his home state,” one source familiar with the discussions said, noting “a poor showing would be a risk and hurt his political future.”…
Most of his advisers agree he does not have a path to the nomination and some are advising him to get out ahead of the March 15 primary.
Sources within the campaign also say the pressure will only continue to mount following an expected disappointing showing Tuesday, when voters in Michigan, Mississippi, Hawaii and Idaho make their picks in the GOP primary.
“Not going to have a great day is an understatement,” one campaign source said.
There’s truth in there: Rubio doesn’t have a path to the nomination. Realistically there’s no way he comes back and clinches a majority of delegates before the convention; not only would he have to start winning, he’d have to start winning and keep winning, likely in landslides in proportional states. I don’t see how he has a path at the convention either. Unlike Cruz, he can’t be offered to Trump fans as a compromise candidate. If he showed up in Cleveland in second or third place in delegates, which seems highly likely given that he’s in third now, any attempt to bypass Trump to make Rubio the nominee would lead Trumpers to scream that the establishment rigged the outcome for their favorite son. Some of Cruz’s more populist fans might turn on Rubio for the same reason. Why would you nominate a guy whose legitimacy as nominee is almost certain to be challenged ferociously by the party’s already enraged base?
Besides, based on how he’s fared in the primary, it’s not like you can expect him to run a gangbusters general election campaign. Ahem:
“They have no infrastructure,” said Scott Reed, who is unaffiliated with any campaign but serves as the chief political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “His campaign hasn’t been able to keep up with his candidacy. . . . They don’t have the operation in the states to help him get over the top. He should be a finalist going all the way to California, and he’s not.”…
The senator’s team thought it could keep replicating that effort [from South Carolina] — an impressive debate performance, packed rallies and a late endorsement from a popular figure…
But Rubio’s game plan ran into reality — the #MarcoMentum strategy, as it’s been dubbed on social media, was covering up massive deficiencies inside the states that were voting. Rubio had little to no infrastructure inside those key states, and each effort began when he was so far behind that momentum meant very little. He ended up a distant third behind Cruz, whose campaign has run a more effective, traditional effort to find supporters and then get them to the polls.
It’s hard to run a Marcomentum campaign when there simply hasn’t been much -mentum. His strategy of propulsion via noteworthy endorsements has also largely been a bust. The notable exception was SC, where he hit the trifecta with Haley, Scott, and Gowdy, but otherwise it’s hard to think of support from a big-name Republican that’s mattered much to him (or to anyone, actually). Tom Coburn backed him in Oklahoma and Cruz still won the state. Rubio, it seems, banked on his own sheer likability, and alleged electability, to overwhelm Cruz’s focus on painstaking organization. Who won that bet?
All that said, I don’t understand what dropping out now would do for Rubio. Sure, he’d avoid the embarrassment of a landslide defeat in his home state — but there’s no reason to think a landslide is in the offing. The more credible polls of Florida lately put him within single digits of Trump with plenty of ads on the air right now picking away at the frontrunner. Besides, if this is all about protecting Rubio’s reputation ahead of a gubernatorial run in 2018, pulling out a week ahead of the primary would arguably damage him as much as losing by 10 would. It’d signal cowardice and pessimism about his chances at an upset, essentially an admission that he has no confidence in Floridians’ confidence in him. He’ll come off better if he fights on to the bitter end, then drops out and backs Cruz if things don’t turn out well.
And look: It’s arguably already too late for Rubio to drop out even if he was inclined to do so. That was the whole point of this post yesterday. Thousands of early votes have already been banked for him. Even if he quit and asked his supporters to back Cruz, it’s an open question as to how many would listen. Cruz would obviously spring into contention in the state, but there’s no guarantee that he wins. And if he doesn’t, then Rubio looks doubly weak, having quit so that he wouldn’t be forced to take his medicine from Trump on election day and then proving that he has no meaningful constituency when his endorsement failed to deliver the state to his new ally Cruz. If you’re Rubio, you’re faced with the possibility of two good outcomes here: Staying in and hoping for an upset win or getting out and hoping that your support propels Cruz to victory? If you’re gambling either way, why not gamble on yourself? Especially since, if Rubio did quit and Trump won Florida anyway, all we’d hear for the next week is that maybe Trump would have lost if only the native son had stayed in and fought. Damn that Marco Rubio for being a quitter!
And although it’s a cinch that Rubio will/would eventually endorse Cruz once he’s out, it’s a much harder question whether he really wants Cruz to win.
Let's say you're Marco Rubio. Why would you want Ted Cruz to beat Donald Trump?
— Zack Beauchamp (@zackbeauchamp) March 7, 2016
The conventional wisdom is that Trump’s a sure loser in November, and even if he isn’t, he’d obviously leave a huge leadership vacuum within the conservative movement as president. The more successful Cruz is, the less of a chance Rubio has at filling that vacuum and mounting a 2020 run. So why help Cruz win Florida? Strictly from a Machiavellian standpoint, it makes no sense to Rubio’s career ambitions.
Here’s a highly annoyed Alex Conant, Rubio’s chief spokesman, demanding that CNN stop spreading lies and wanting to know why they didn’t call the campaign for comment before running their story. In lieu of an exit question, go read James Poulos’s harsh but incisive critique of the failed promise of “Marcomentum.” Quote: “From the beginning, Rubio was the face of establishmentarianism today, establishmentarianism tomorrow, and establishmentarianism forever. More Dubya-esque even than Jeb, more chipper than even Lindsey Graham, he was, on paper, the perfect dauphin: Change generations and ethnicities, and pow — no further change needed!”