Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Fetch and Carry

The reductio ad absurdum of pro-Rubio consolidation strategies.
marco rubio FETCH

I hate to throw cold water on Ross Douthat’s pundit fantasy – Rubio getting Kasich out of the way by offering him the VP slot – but . . . wouldn’t that be a huge gift to Ted Cruz? And isn’t Cruz Rubio’s biggest worry over the next week?

Think about it. Cruz is positioned as Mr. Solid Gold Conservative in the race. Kasich is running as a self-proclaimed relative moderate. If Rubio offered Kasich the VP slot, he’d be playing right into Cruz’s script. “He betrayed us with the Gang of Eight – and now he’s offered the Vice Presidency to a man who supports Obamacare. What other conservative causes will he betray if we give him the keys to the White House?” Is that really the message he wants out there going into Super Tuesday?

That’s apart from the fact that an overture to Kasich makes Rubio look weak, like somebody who can’t win on his own . . . and there isn’t much of an answer to that charge because it’s true! Rubio can’t win on his own! That’s the premise of Douthat’s column!

And it’s also unnecessary given the geography of the upcoming contests. Kasich has basically abandoned the fight for the majority of Super Tuesday states. He’s not going to be a major factor in Georgia, Oklahoma, or Arkansas – all states where Rubio has polled very competitively in the past month. He may try to make himself a factor in Virginia or Minnesota, two other states where Rubio has polled if anything even more competitively – but so what? Kasich was polling at 2% in Minnesota a month ago, when Rubio was polling in the lead. If Rubio’s stock drops, and Kasich rises to, I don’t know – 10%? – how exactly is that a knock on Kasich, as opposed to an indication that Rubio just can’t close the sale?

Rubio has a path to the nomination. It involves winning at least a handful of states that are effectively three-person races between himself, Trump and Cruz, in Super Tuesday states where the terrain is far from unfavorable for him. If there’s a real split on Super Tuesday, with Cruz winning, say, Texas, Oklahoma and Alaska, Rubio winning Virginia, Minnesota and Georgia, and Trump winning Massachusetts, Vermont, Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama – then even though Trump will be the clear delegate leader, there will be three viable candidates. Kasich will collapse, and Rubio can go into the big winner-take-all contests on March 15th having made a credible case for his candidacy – and a far more-credible one than Cruz will have. It’s really not clear to me why Rubio needs to drive Kasich out of the race to make that scenario happen. On the contrary – what he needs to do is out-hustle Cruz, and make a strong case for his own candidacy in forums that are naturally more favorable to a quite conservative candidate like Rubio than states like Ohio and Illinois that Kasich is counting on – but that won’t vote until March 15th.

Here’s the thing: there is no anti-Trump vote to be consolidated. There’s an anti-establishment vote that Trump has consolidated. That vote is not a majority – but the remainder is not so unified in its loathing of Trump that Rubio would magically win a majority if other candidates would just step aside and let him win. Even if Rubio’s plan is the be the Republican Dukakis – the perfectly acceptable candidate who first beats the other acceptable candidates and then beats the unacceptable candidates – he can only get there by actually beating them.

So seriously: stop trying to make fetch happen. It’s not going to happen. Unless he makes it happen himself.