Tapper to Rubio: Are you in denial?

Marco Rubio had a rough Super Tuesday until the end of the night, at least in the W column, and in two interviews he got pressed on whether he had a realistic chance of prevailing for the Republican nomination. After having come in a close second in Virginia, where Rubio had hoped to perhaps score an upset victory, and falling off the pace elsewhere, Jake Tapper had a question for Rubio. “Is there a certain amount of denial that you’re in?”


Rubio makes the argument (shown in brief here) that this Super Tuesday isn’t about wins and losses but simply tallying up delegates through proportional allocation. Jake Tapper offers a classically skeptical look at Rubio’s explanation when the camera comes back to him as he closes out the interview, and tosses it back to Anderson Cooper with another mention of “denial.” Rubio got an equally tough time at Fox News, where Megyn Kelly and Bret Baier hint that Rubio might be engaging in spin, absent a win:

Both interviews took place before results from Minnesota became available, of course. Had they caught Rubio after that news broke, the tenor of the conversations may have been somewhat different, but tough questions still remain. Rubio won in Minnesota even with overflow crowds, a phenomenon most associated with Donald Trump, who only managed a distant third. Rubio proved he can win in a big turnout. However, Ted Cruz won three states last night, including Alaska, which came in early this morning, and twice as many delegates as Rubio. According to CNN’s delegate estimate, Donald Trump has won 315 delegates so far, more than his two rivals combined, with Cruz at 205 and Rubio at 106.

Even looking at this as a delegate allocation night, Rubio’s chances appear to have shrunk rather than expanded. There are several more states left between yesterday’s Super Tuesday I and Super Tuesday II that will allocate delegates proportionally, but those are not necessarily Rubio-friendly spaces. Kansas and perhaps Maine may give Rubio some delegate pickups on Saturday, but Louisiana and Kentucky seem more daunting. Next Tuesday, Michigan could be good ground for Rubio, but John Kasich is making a big play for the state and that might dent Rubio’s hopes, while Mississippi is likely to be Trump territory. In order to overcome even Cruz’ lead to move into second place, Rubio will have to win Florida’s winner-take-all and probably Ohio’s as well, assuming Kasich’s strong electoral machine has been sidelined by that time. Otherwise, Rubio will have to look at North Carolina’s proportional-allocation primary and hope to get most of the delegates out of Illinois and Missouri.

Is it doable? Yes, but perhaps not as likely as Rubio surmises, especially if he can’t beat back Trump in Florida. On his plus side, Rubio won almost 40% of all late deciders in last night’s exit polls, demonstrating that his attacks on Donald Trump worked, at least on those who needed to find their favorite non-Trump candidate in the race. Accordingly, Rubio outperformed the sparse polling in the Super Tuesday I races. Combined with a win in Minnesota, Rubio can make the claim that he has some momentum — even if, in delegate-allocation terms, it’s not as much momentum as Cruz.

However, consider what these delegate totals mean, and how that momentum for both Cruz and Rubio might work over the long haul. Right now, Trump has slightly less than half of all delegates bound, with his 315 stacked up against 349 of all other rivals combined. If both Cruz and Rubio can win some winner-take-all states and keep pace with Trump in proportionally allocated states, there is a good chance that no one comes into the convention with enough delegates on the first ballot to win the nomination — at which point Rubio might get his wish about pushing the “con man” off the ticket, although it may not mean he’d be at the top of it. Even that strategy depends on Rubio winning Florida, though, so expect to see a dogfight there — and don’t expect Rubio to change his strategy from the past week one iota, either.