March 8, 2016
Marco Rubio is using a Mitt Romney robo-call in Florida. John Kasich is using one in Michigan. It’s part of the nascent #NeverTrump movement. Romney telegraphed this much in his speech last week, and has offered to do the same for Ted Cruz.
If Cruz decides he wants Mitt’s help I’d find myself beyond shocked. For Kasich, it makes perfect sense. In Rubio’s case, it’s pure stupidity. Here’s why:Kasich has spent most of the past four decades in office. He pitches himself as a reformer, and has the record to back it up, but nobody who brags about 18 years in Congress is taking on the insurgent mantle.
For someone running as the moderate adult in the room, a Romney reinforcement makes plenty of sense. But that’s Kasich, not Rubio. Somebody who is going to respond well to an endorsement from the 2012 loser isn’t going to turn around and support a young freshman senator.
Rubio’s hope was to make himself acceptable to favorable for the majority of the GOP electorate. He largely succeeded at this, despite a very poorly timed debate snafu in New Hampshire.
Polls have consistently shown him with upper tier favorability ratings, and very few Republicans adamantly opposed to his nomination. Until very recently, he was running respectably in all corners of the country.
The disadvantage to being mostly favorable is it sometimes prevents people from going all in for you. Polarizing candidates like Trump have an advantage with this. On February 29, it looked like a three person contest, with Rubio being a more saleable anti-Trump than Cruz.
Then Ted had a better Super Tuesday, something the demographics and geography would have indicated, but most recent polling had obscured. He did just better enough to seem like the more plausible alternative.
The contests of March 5 locked this down even further. It was a bit more on Cruz’s turf, and the momentum from Super Tuesday moved many Cruz/Rubio considerers to Cruz. Now Rubio faces a must-win March 15 vote in Florida, trailing Trump in his home state.
Rubio pitches himself as the underdog with a chance. He says he will close the gap over the next week, redeem himself and move forward. He cites his 2010 upset Senate primary win over sitting Governor Charlie Crist.
It’s true he was the underdog. Rubio did come from nowhere to surprise the then-mostly popular governor. But Rubio ran as a smiley Ted Cruz. That was also his path to the nomination this year.
He doesn’t have the accomplishments of Kasich, the media savvy or business experience of Trump. His appeal is as a Cruz in sheep’s clothing. Rubio defeated Crist by being the conservative in the race, having the backing of the Tea Party when Republicans began their revolt against the establishment.
Charlie Crist would have used a Mitt Romney robo-call, not Rubio. He did get the 2010 endorsement of Jeb Bush. At the time, Jeb was a popular conservative ex-governor, someone who governed to the right of Crist. It helped legitimize Marco.
Now, even in Florida, Jeb doesn’t have the impact he did six years ago, though he would help far more than Romney. The problem is he doesn’t have his endorsement. For people who do care about these things, his silence is telling.
It’s an unfortunate combination for Marco. He can talk all he wants about Trump resembling Crist, but in terms of building a voting coalition he does not.
Had Crist stayed in to contest the Republican primary, rather than dropping out to file as an Independent, he would have struggled in North Florida and the Panhandle against Rubio. Trump is strong there, particularly in the Panhandle.
At the same time The Donald retains Crist’s strength in Broward and Palm Beach counties and is similarly competitive in the I-4 corridor between Tampa and Daytona, passing through Orlando.
Rubio realizes he has a problem. Trump is still ahead in the polls, is well suited to Florida, and is hitting him aggressively. Cruz has a much better chance at the nomination if Marco is gone, and is beginning to run ads in the state, along with opening several last-minute offices.
Though he once badly trailed Crist in the polls, he moved ahead for good four months before the primary vote. The whole reason the governor abandoned the primary to run as an Independent was Rubio’s large polling lead. He didn’t make up a double digit deficit in two weeks.
The odds were daunting anyway, and perhaps the campaign didn’t want to offend Romney, but using him for robo-calls without getting an endorsement is the worst of both worlds.
It’s possible the people of Florida, particularly Latino Republicans in South Florida, will rally around Little Marco and show Trump they want to keep their guy in the race for a bit. Perhaps the calls by Cruz and Trump for him to exit will backfire.
Even if this is the case, partnering up with Romney is a bad idea. As a strong conservative who the establishment can live with, Rubio has a reason to exist. As a tool of the establishment, he does not.
Marco just crossed the political Rubicon, moving the race one step closer to a Trump-Cruz-Kasich duel.
Full Disclosure: I’m the same genius who wrote a post recently about the timing of Kasich’s inevitable exit. Today, I’d consider him the favorite in Ohio and more likely to survive into April than Rubio. It’s uh, a fluid situation out there….