March 10, 2016
Less than two weeks ago, I wrote a post called Ted’s Last Stand. It’s hard to believe now, but barely more than a week ago, many people thought Ted Cruz would need to step aside for Marco Rubio on the morning of March 2.
When they talked about a unity ticket, the idea was Marco would take the lead role. Polls indicated Donald Trump would win as many as 9 or 10 of the 11 states voting on Super Tuesday, perhaps a clean sweep if he could catch Ted in Texas.
Rubio led Cruz by small margins in many of the Southern states where Trump had a big edge. After narrowly finishing ahead of Ted in South Carolina and Nevada and winning endorsements left and right, it looked like Marco was the best hope to stop The Donald, if only Cruz would realize he needed to get out of the way.
Did I mention that was 10 days ago?
Now, doomsday is rapidly approaching for Marco Rubio. It’s worse for him now than Cruz then. While Ted was worried about staying ahead of Trump in Texas, Marco trails him in Florida. The only question is the margin he needs to make up.
Ten days ago, Rubio was perceived to have an edge because he was starting to finish ahead of Cruz and the calendar would begin favoring him more. On Super Tuesday itself, Cruz finished ahead of Rubio in 6 of 11 states, not an overpowering margin.
But he won 3 states instead of 1, and didn’t fall short of minimum requirements for delegates as frequently as Rubio. The delegate gap was larger. The perception gap larger than that.
On March 5th, voters bailed on Marco, with many moving to Cruz if they were at least somewhat conservative, Kasich if they weren’t. The next day, Puerto Rico remained loyal, handing Rubio a big, if not influential victory.
Then on March 8th, the deluge. Originally pushing Cruz for second, Rubio finished fourth, behind Kasich in Mississippi. Once a reasonable contender, he was third in Hawaii and Idaho. In Michigan, a cliff separated Cruz/Kasich battling for second, and Rubio again in fourth.
His campaign is unsurprisingly reportedly in turmoil. Investors are agitated. Some apparently think he should drop out before Florida votes on Tuesday if he can’t get closer in polls. Observers worry a defeat will prevent him from running for governor in 2018.
Yesterday, he held a rally at a football stadium in predominantly Cuban Hialeah, FL. It’s in Dade County, his home base. I’m not sure what his original attendance hopes were, but a small, quiet group assembled in an end zone to listen to the besieged candidate.
Later in the day, he did a televised town hall. In it, he apologized for going into the gutter with Trump, saying he was embarrassed his kids heard some of the things he said.
He was unrepentant about calling Trump a con man, but now regrets discussing spray tans and body part sizes. I’m not sure about the strategy there. There was a time I was more than willing to give his team the benefit of the doubt, but that time is in the rear-view mirror.
If I was the type of voter to object to calling Trump names, I’m thinking I’d rather just go with Kasich who never started, than Rubio who wound up showing weakness. Perhaps there’s an angle I’m missing here.
Tonight Rubio attempts to overcome all of the above and fight for the remainder of his political life. At this point it isn’t just about trying to win next Tuesday and stay in the race. It’s about future viability for high office.
He wasn’t interested in remaining in the Senate. That’s why unlike Rand Paul, he didn’t try to concurrently run for re-election. At the time they made their respective decisions, Paul was considered a legit nomination prospect. It’s not like one had way more reason to think they would win.
I’m not sure he wants to spend another few years cooped up in Tallahassee, nor am I sure he would find it that easy to win, even if he did avoid sticking around to lose on the 15th.
Losing is bad. Dropping out because you’re about to lose is arguably much worse. Florida is a large, reasonably prideful state. Rubio isn’t tremendously popular at home. If he were, he’d find himself ahead in the polls, and we wouldn’t find ourselves in the middle of this discussion.
People would perceive a gubernatorial run as a place holder until he could run for president again in 2020 or 2024 (depending on who wound up winning this November.) If Richard Nixon were alive, Marco could ask him how well that works.
So, he shouldn’t drop out so that he can run for governor. He also has limited future as a 2020 or 2024 nominee by abandoning ship. If the old GOP rule of nominating the guy who finished second last time should return, winding up fourth doesn’t help.
Better to push forward, pray you win, or at least wind up real close, and then explore trading your delegates for a spot as Ted’s number two. At the moment he is wearing eau de loser. Only one way to fix that.
Worst case, he has a great future as a lobbyist and highly paid speaker. If Cruz or Trump wind up losing in November, he can explain to Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, or one of the other 2020 prospects what not to do.
This is a long way of saying it’s too late for Rubio to jump. We’ll see what version of himself arrives on the debate stage. At this point he’s throwing himself on the mercy of the court, hoping Floridians don’t abandon him in his time of need.
The issue is lack of residual goodwill. Almost fifty years ago, Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge. Never a good idea, but doing so late at night with a young woman who isn’t your wife is worse. Leaving her to drown is exponentially worse than that.
Forgetting to mention it to the authorities for the better part of a day isn’t a great idea either. But, if you’re popular in your home state, one of your older brothers died as a pilot in World War II and the other two were murdered, and you show some decent contrition in a televised address, you can avoid prosecution, retain your office, and die a senatorial hero.
Marco got elected in 2010 with extensive Tea Party support. Then he went to work on comprehensive immigration reform. They deserted him as soon as he made that choice. In recent polling, Trump and Cruz divide 88 percent of the support of self-described Florida Tea Party identifiers.
If Rubio was close to locking down the nomination over a candidate like Chris Christie, perhaps they would cut him a break. Voting for him instead of Trump or Cruz now? Ha!
That means Marco needs all of the Cubans in South Florida and most of the Cubans in Havana to support him on Tuesday. The math is terrible. One tremendously inspiring version of Marco Rubio is going to need to show up tonight, and even that probably isn’t enough.
So what to do? Back to Ted Kennedy for a minute. His exercise in vehicular swimming delayed presidential ambitions for a time, but eventually he dove in. In 1980, he challenged incumbent President Carter for the Democratic nomination before falling short.
He was given a prime speaking slot at the convention and used it to stir the crowd and begin rebuilding his legacy. As he wrapped up, many delegates wished he and not Carter was headed for the ballot.
Kennedy wasn’t going to get another shot. Carter had all the delegates he needed by this point. Rubio still has a Tuesday vote ahead of him. It’s easier to do inspiration in a convention speech than a debate, even one without a lurking Trump.
It’s up to Little Marco to show a big enough vision to have voters want to keep him around for another couple weeks, or failing at that, to give him another shot in 4 to 8 years. If he can at least narrow the gap over the next few days, he gains a bit of leverage with Cruz, who would still like his delegates.
If he needs to play Gore to Cruz’s Clinton, at least he would have restored some dignity and reputation first. We all know Rubio’s greatest political skills are oratorical, time for him to show it.
Trump likes to say “once a choker, always a choker.” In a few hours, we’ll find out.
Trump is Trump. He’ll do whatever he’ll do. Kasich will do the Kasich thing. If Rubio crushes it, that leaves only Ohio as an option on Tuesday. If Marco falters, Kasich has a good opportunity in Illinois too.
He should consider moving slightly rightward in his content. There are only so many moderates. Many of Rubio’s supporters are solidly conservative. Kasich doesn’t need to pretend he’s Cruz, but does need to fight him for Rubio supporters.
In Ohio, where voters are more familiar with his record, Kasich is polling just fine with very conservative respondents. Not a huge shift, not anything easily perceptible, but he should start drifting that way.
Though I’m sure he’ll need to joust with Trump one or thrice, Cruz should mention the economy, fixing upward mobility issues, and try out as much of his anti-Hillary general election material as possible.
Show, don’t tell. Keep the stuff about how he’s the only candidate who can beat Donald Trump to a minimum. It’s ok to mention occasionally. Not all voters are as able to hear this in their sleep as I am, but if he wants people to pick him as their champion to beat Trump and Hillary, the best thing he can do is play the role, not interview for it.