Marco Rubio, imaginary frontrunner

Rubio won’t likely move the needle with stellar debate performances—he’s had three of them so far, if you ask most pundits, and it’s had only a negligible effect on his popular support. In fact, his peak poll numbers came earlier this year, before the debates began. Rubio also lags behind in other relevant metrics, like party endorsements. According to a recent overview by Aaron Bycoffe on the website FiveThirtyEight, Rubio ranks fourth in endorsements, after Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Mike Huckabee. (It’s true, though, that there has been a recent upsurge in endorsements for Rubio—and that Republican Party leaders have been very slow to endorse anyone thus far.) 

So maybe it’s money that’s convincing everyone Rubio will be the last Republican standing? Not quite. Rubio recently had a fundraising score when he snagged the support of billionaire Paul Singer, who is not only a sugar daddy in his own right but influential in getting other plutocrats to open up the money bags. Still, Singer’s backing followed a period of lackadaisical fund-raising. As the Washington Post reported last month, “Rubio’s $5.7 million haul during the third quarter of the year was less than half of the totals put up by Bush, Cruz and Carson, even as he focused intensely on raising money.”

To date, then, Rubio has proven a mediocre candidate by any reasonable measure. So how do we explain the rush to hail him as the likely winner? As Douthat observes, Rubio earns the nod “by process of elimination.”