February 29, 2016
Since the beginning of time, politicians have tried to win elections. The Rubio campaign appears remarkably unconcerned with actually finishing first. While nominations are determined by delegate counts, you get more of those when you win than when you don’t.
First, they said they didn’t need to win Iowa or New Hampshire. That was already bold, since the first modern primary system GOP race in 1976, a nominee has never failed to win one of the two.
With the larger field and presence of PAC money, you could see how he could get away with that. In 2012, Newt Gingrich won South Carolina after struggling in the first two contests. Rubio has fewer visible flaws and Gingrich was undone when he lost in Florida.
With Marco having a home-state edge there, less chance of future implosion. Plausible enough. Of course, the campaign then disavowed any plans of South Carolina victory, or Nevada.
Given that he went 0 for 4, not planning on a win seems wise. Perhaps no candidate has ever controlled expectations as well. He keeps moving the goalposts though. At some point their line shifted to not having to win on Super Tuesday, that he could wait to win in Florida.
That was already going beyond pushing it. As Ted Cruz has pointed out, half the states vote before then. Wouldn’t a nominee manage to grab one of 20+ contests? Usually, a nominee doesn’t lose that many states in total, forget in a row.
Recently, Marco has outdone himself. He now argues he doesn’t need to win Florida either. Is it possible to construct a scenario where Rubio wins nowhere on Super Tuesday, drops Florida, and still remains a viable contender?
There is an opportunity for Rubio to win Minnesota tomorrow. It’s likely Trump’s worst state in the first 20 or 30, Marco led a poll, and he’s making another visit there on Tuesday morning. It’s his most likely non-Puerto Rico, pre-March 15 win.
If Cruz only wins Texas, and Rubio wins Minnesota, he can claim he’s won just as often outside his home state as Ted. I can build a scenario where he builds off of that to wind up the final anti-Trump, contesting the nomination for the foreseeable future.
But let’s say he doesn’t. Let’s say Trump wins Minnesota, along with everything except Texas. If The Donald beat Cruz at home too, that would help Rubio, so let’s assume he doesn’t and Cruz wins.
We’ll also stipulate that Trump wins Florida. Not by a ton, but that Marco is rejected by his own constituents. That’s hardly a stretch. Trump is currently ahead by plenty. Even if it winds up a two-person race, I’d still favor The Donald.
Even more so if Rubio doesn’t win very often before. Florida is a great state for Trump, he’s a virtual resident, and Sunshine State voters have shown they are more interested in supporting Marco when he looks like a winner.
Can we replicate how Team Rubio thinks they would pull this off, and does it pass the bullshit test?
That doesn’t mean Rubio would become the nomination favorite. I’m only suggesting there is a path where he can continue losing, drop his home state and still put himself in a position to deny Trump 1237 delegates.
Two more conditions. He needs to keep Trump below 1100 or 1150, ideally closer to 1000 delegates, approximately 40-43% of the total needed. He has to close strong. Expecting Rubio to lose all of those contests and then catch or surpass Trump in delegates is implausible.
Regardless of how many establishment figures would prefer Rubio, unless he’s relatively close in the delegate count and wins more than he loses down the home stretch, they can’t push the nomination to him without losing any hope of keeping the party together for fall.
Super Tuesday: Trump wins every state except Texas. Rubio finishes second in the vast majority of them. He barely manages to reach the 20% line to accumulate delegates in Texas. This is why he spent a decent amount of time there in the past week, despite being headed for a third place finish.
Cruz fails to hit the delegate line in a couple of states. Combined with Rubio finishing ahead of him in most, this gives Marco a very slight edge in delegates over Cruz, despite Ted’s win in delegate-heavy Texas, while Rubio was shut out.
Repeated trips to places like Georgia and Virginia keep Trump’s final totals in most states to the mid/high 30s, preventing him from getting much ahead of the pace he needs for 1237. It also serves to put him ahead of Cruz, letting him argue he’s the clear #2 in the race.
Ted does not exit. Regardless of Rubio having finished ahead of him in 75-80% of the contests, Cruz points out he’s won twice, Rubio not at all. Why would he leave the field to someone who hasn’t won, especially with Kasich remaining in too.
Ben Carson does get out, having failed to break 11% in any state, and facing a lot of expensive states without much money left. Carson decides to wait before endorsing anyone.
March 5: Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Maine vote. Trump wins them all. There’s very little polling on these, but with the possible exception of Kansas, these are better than average Trump states.
Rubio finishes ahead of Cruz in Kansas (several endorsements), Louisiana (highest Catholic population in the South), and Maine (Cruz doesn’t do well in New England). They finish close together in Kentucky.
March 6: Rubio wins Puerto Rico. I didn’t say he wouldn’t win anywhere before March 15, just that he’d get blanked on Super Tuesday. There’s no polling, but betting markets have Rubio with a 70-75% chance of victory here.
March 8: Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan and Mississippi vote. Rubio wins or gets really close in Hawaii. I’m not basing this on anything other than this being the most multi-ethnic state in the Union and a place that would not care at all about a wall.
As long as he finishes noticeably ahead of Cruz there, the scenario still works. A win is gravy. Rubio also finishes ahead of Cruz in the other states, though not always by much. Most importantly, he winds up more than 10 points up on Kasich in Michigan.
The next day, both Cruz and Kasich exit the race. While Puerto Rico doesn’t qualify as a major win, Cruz and Rubio would have the same amount of road wins (1; 2 if Rubio won Hawaii) and Rubio would lead in delegates and have finished ahead of Cruz repeatedly.
With no more southern states left to vote, Rubio would have the advantage between the two going forward. Even Ted wouldn’t argue he was a stronger candidate in the Mid-Atlantic or Pacific Coast states. Pressure among anti-Trump conservatives mounts, and Cruz leaves.
Kasich decides he’s not going to go from finishing fourth in Michigan to winning in Ohio. Internal polls have him at 16% at home. He decides it’s better to avoid embarrassment. Heading in to March 15, there are only two candidates standing.
At this point, it’s great for Rubio to have the field to himself. With full winner-take-all or congressional district winner-take-all races coming up, he reaches the point where he can’t afford to divide anti-Trump support.
Until this point, the extra candidates increase the chance to take delegates from Trump. Unless Rubio were to win multiple states on March 1, there’s almost no way for him to get to 1237 himself ahead of the convention. With that out as an option, his goal is to limit Trump.
D.C. and Guam vote on March 12. Not sure that it matters how that turns out. Pick an outcome of your choosing.
March 15: Trump wins Florida. Not by a ton, but he wins by 5 or 6. Rubio failed to build up enough momentum to seem like a winner at home. Even under the best of circumstances, he would have struggled to win very narrowly.
Fortunately, voters in Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, and Illinois don’t realize he’s going to lose Florida when they go to the polls. Rubio narrowly wins winner-take-all Ohio, mostly offsetting his delegate loss in Florida.
He wins Illinois, a below-average polling state for Trump. He wins North Carolina, a state with plenty of the upscale suburbs he does best in. The Donald wins Missouri.
While Trump will spend the next few months talking about how he beat Rubio in Florida, Rubio wins the day, taking a majority of votes, delegates, and 3 of the 5 states. As the first real test of a two-candidate race, held in a number of larger, often purplish states, this overrides the single embarrassment.
After: Rubio and Trump slug it out with an uncertain outcome. Even if the above scenario happens exactly the way Marco would have drawn it up, The Donald still has a noticeable delegate lead. Rubio needs to win more than half of the delegates and popular votes from March 15 forward to win legitimacy.
Trump has an edge in places like New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. He’s got a huge advantage in West Virginia. Rubio is better suited to California, Oregon and Washington.
The key determining states in this scenario are likely Pennsylvania, Indiana, Maryland, Arizona and Nebraska. Rubio would need the majority of these. I’ll spare you the analysis, but they would all wind up competitive in a two-way race. Trying to figure out now who would win is pointless.
Don’t want to predict who would win, and there’s still the matter of Rubio getting that far. If Cruz and/or Kasich are still in the race on March 15, Trump is the favorite everywhere that day. If he sweeps those states, it’s done. He’ll get to 1237 or close enough whether anyone likes it or not.
Still, I’m convinced the Rubio Team is using the best possible strategy for the cards they were dealt. Even if Trump ultimately wins, finishing second out of 17 isn’t exactly shameful. Betting markets are still giving Marco a fighting chance. This scenario is why.