Sabato: Time for Rubio to offer Kasich the VP slot to stop Trump

Sounds like a Marvel Team-Up, and perhaps as unrealistic — at least for the moment. Larry Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley and his team express their amazement over Donald Trump’s sustained dominance in a crowded field, but believe that the inevitable consolidation will expose a cap for Trump’s support in Republican primaries. If the GOP wants to accelerate that process, they argue, then they need to get Marco Rubio and John Kasich to partner up on a Florida-Ohio GOP ticket, starting now (via Peter Schorsch):

Now that Bush is out, Rubio might want to consider a daring gambit — openly offering Kasich the vice presidential slot in exchange for the Ohio governor’s support. (Ronald Reagan did something similar much later in his 1976 campaign, right before the Republican convention, and while it didn’t work out, Reagan shook up conventional wisdom. It is a tactic worth considering.) If Rubio can somehow push Kasich out after Bush’s exit, it seems reasonable to think that the lion’s share of their supporters would go to him, and in a three-way race, that could be enough for Rubio to start getting the victories he has failed to secure so far. However, Kasich seems inclined to continue to run, and the Republican power brokers who favor a Rubio-Kasich ticket probably won’t take the risks necessary to make this happen.

Let’s make no mistake: Trump, amazingly, is in a commanding position to become the Republican presidential nominee. The fact that he won about the same share of the vote in New Hampshire and South Carolina — two wildly different states —  shows the broad appeal of his campaign among a significant portion of the Republican electorate. As we noted in the Crystal Ball on Thursday, we’re rapidly approaching a critical point in the Republican primary process: After Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio vote on March 15, nearly 60% of the Republican delegates will have been won. If someone is going to beat Trump, Rubio probably has the best shot, but the hour is growing late for all of the non-Trump candidates.

Why not Ted Cruz? After all, Cruz has actually won a state (Iowa), which Rubio has not. The Crystal Ball team see Cruz’ disappointing third-place finish in South Carolina while running hard on evangelical identity as a harbinger of disappointment:

Trends from Iowa and New Hampshire manifested themselves once again in South Carolina. Trump did better among voters with lower education levels, while Rubio did better among the more educated. Cruz did well with the most conservative voters, but he doesn’t show much appeal outside of the hard-liners. To have a shot, Cruz must do well in the most religious and conservative states. Unquestionably, South Carolina is one of them, yet Cruz didn’t get a single delegate. Cruz is well-funded and has some theoretically promising states coming up on Super Tuesday — like his home state of Texas — but his hopes of winning the nomination seem to be dwindling, at least at the moment.

The only way this works is if the race has truly gotten down to either Trump or Rubio. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy made a case for that scenario on Morning Joe earlier today:

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Monday suggested that the Republican presidential race is now down to Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, leaving out Ted Cruz.

“I see it more as Trump-Rubio,” McCarthy said during an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” as the hosts discussed pundits who ruled out candidates like Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

“Cruz’s whole strategy of winning – he wasn’t planning on Trump – and when you look going through the evangelical vote and others, he just lost that,” McCarthy added.

That argument is hard to credit, though, mainly because of the scoreboard. Rubio has 3rd, 5th, and 2nd place finishes; Cruz has a win and a pair of 3rd places; Kasich has a 2nd-place finish in New Hampshire. On a money and organization basis, Cruz and Rubio do better than Trump, while Kasich may be all but tapped out. One can make a case for a three-man race — in fact, that’s almost certainly reality now — but not a two-man race, unless either Cruz or Rubio drop out. And since they both see each other as the obvious beneficiary of such a suspension, neither has any incentive to go first.

Would the Rubio-Kasich Marvel team-up work? Sabato’s team uses Reagan’s bid in 1976 as a favorable precedent, but let’s not forget that it didn’t work for Reagan. Still, a Florida-Ohio ticket would be a conventional-wisdom dream in the general election, especially with a young and charismatic presidential nominee at the top and a two-term governor and former budget hawk as running mate. It would make Republicans instantly more credible in two states they need to win in November, and without which Democrats maintain their White House lease. (For more on the importance of Florida and Ohio, and how Republicans can win both, watch for my book GOING RED.) 

In this cycle, conventional wisdom hasn’t played very well in the primaries, even if it’s likely to find more connection in the general election. The Rubio-Kasich combination might consolidate the moderates and anti-Trump forces in the party behind Rubio, but it would also perhaps shift the “very conservative” vote to Cruz. Could that drain support from Trump? Possibly, but the result would be to make a brokered convention more likely — and perhaps put that Rubio-Kasich combination on the ticket as a result. That seems to be the most optimistic outcome for those looking to preclude Trump’s march to the nomination.

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