Michael Brendan Dougherty considers Rubio’s chances after South Carolina:
The Florida senator will have a chance to put together the anti-Trump coalition. Many powerful people in the conservative movement and the Republican establishment desperately want him as their nominee [bold mine-DL]. That counts for a lot.
But don’t get too excited for Rubio. It may still be too late. The race moves to Nevada next. It is hard to see Rubio or Cruz being so discouraged by results there that one of them drops out and endorses the other in an attempt to stop Trump. They will, as they have, focus all of their fire on each other, continuing the pattern where Trump never stays in a prolonged one-on-one fight. Rubio wins among people who have college diplomas and Republicans who have high-paying jobs. He is acceptable to most of the party, but he is only truly beloved by the political class itself [bold mine-DL].
Dougherty is right that many party and movement elites want him to win, and he’s also right that they are by far his biggest fans. That makes Rubio particularly ill-suited to beat Trump in an election year defined by popular hostility to political elites. Nearly two-thirds of Iowa caucus-goers backed candidates that party leaders can’t stand or didn’t want as the nominee. At least half of New Hampshire voters and more than half of South Carolinian voters backed “outsider” or insurgent candidates. Movement conservatives have been pleading with voters to reject Trump, but the people inclined to support him don’t care what movement conservatives say. South Carolina party leaders rallied behind Rubio and it barely lifted him past Cruz. Rubio seems to need a lot of propping up, and that makes it harder for voters to ignore that the people propping him up are the ones that have failed them so miserably in the past.
Most Republican voters don’t seem interested in falling in line behind the party-approved candidate, and this year that candidate is Rubio. While that keeps his campaign afloat for a while, it isn’t as much of an advantage as it once was. It may still count for something, but it counts for less than it used to. There was an interesting question in CNN’s South Carolina exit poll: “Do you feel betrayed by Republican politicians?” 52% said yes, 45% said no. Trump won the first group by 13 points (and led Rubio by 17), and still managed to win the other group by a couple points. If most Republican primary voters feel betrayed by their party’s politicians, it seems unlikely that they are going to reward the candidate perceived to be most closely linked with those politicians.