Tim Alberta reports on how South Carolina Gov. Haley’s endorsement of Rubio is being spun by his opponents:
This is smart spin, aimed at inflating Rubio’s expectations in the run-up to Saturday’s primary. It’s also an entirely fair observation.
Rubio’s team insists they are focused on winning a long-term delegate fight against Trump and Cruz. Yet both of those candidates have already notched wins. Sooner or later, to sustain the perception of viability, Rubio will need to win somewhere. And it’s not unreasonable to ask, as Miller did: If Rubio can’t win here, with most of the state’s Republican apparatus supporting him, where can he?
The Haley endorsement may give Rubio enough of a boost to sneak past Cruz into second, but according to all of the latest polls he’ll still be losing by over 10 points to Trump. Because Trump’s support is evenly distributed across the state, that means Rubio will also probably lose all or almost all of the delegates to the front-runner. Rubio’s “strategy” will have come up short again while doing him no good in the delegate race.
Rubio’s so-called “3-2-1” strategy for the first three contests was never likely to work for all sorts of reasons, but perhaps the biggest flaw in the plan was the assumption that Rubio could win South Carolina. Trump has been dominating the polling in the state for months, and his supporters seem determined to stick by him. The Rubio plan, such as it was, needed Trump to lose ground and it needed Kasich and Bush to drop out or implode, but because of the New Hampshire results none of those things happened. Instead, Kasich has enjoyed a small but significant surge, Bush is still hanging around, and Trump’s lead remains about as large as it has been. Rubio also trails badly in Nevada, where the next Republican caucuses will be held next Tuesday. Now it’s looking as if Rubio is going to lose all of the first four contests before moving on to mostly inhospitable territory in the South on March 1.
If Rubio doesn’t even finish in second in South Carolina, and comes in behind both Trump and Cruz for the third time, maybe that will finally be enough to dispel the Rubio fantasy that so many party elites and pundits have been trying to keep going for months. Maybe we can finally dispense with the idea that the Rubio campaign knew what it was doing.