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The Decline and Fall of Rubio

Noah Millman reviews [1] Rubio’s declining performance and concludes that Rubio’s continued presence in the race helps Trump. He adds that party leaders could try to push him out, but they don’t want to:

But the GOP establishment doesn’t really want to stop Trump. What they want is to back the candidate of their choosing, someone they know will be reliable on the issues that matter most to them, and who they also believe they can sell. They have made excuses at every twist and turn of this campaign in terms of how different things would have been if just one little thing had gone differently – and bewailed the good electoral fortune showered on candidates whom they cannot abide. But they cannot reconcile themselves to the fact that it’s not bad luck. The primary electorate really, really doesn’t want to vote for someone the party leadership has blessed. Frankly, they’d prefer someone completely unacceptable to that leadership.

Rubio likes to insist that he isn’t an “establishment” candidate, because even he understands at some level that Republican voters don’t want a candidate that party leaders and donors prefer, but he was perceived that way because that is how he has acted and presented himself to voters. He has tried to sell himself as the most electable candidate, and he talks up his ability to “unite” the party, and these are both traits that Republicans are used to associating with the “establishment” candidate. He sticks to the party line on virtually everything, and on immigration voters assume that his real loyalty is to what serves the interests of the wealthy. Rubio’s trouble is that he was stuck with the baggage of the party “establishment” without gaining any of the traditional advantages, most of which had already been taken by Bush, and he did this in a year when those advantages counted for less than ever before. On top of all that, by spoiling Bush’s chances he earned the enduring resentment of Bush and his allies without getting any credit from the voters that don’t like them.

Meanwhile, Rubio keeps pretending [2] that his campaign hasn’t failed:

He also said the states that have yet to vote will be more favorable for him going forward. “This map only gets better for us as we move forward [bold mine-DL] in some of the other states,” he said. “We’re soon gonna be in the winner-take-all process…that’s where we feel very confident as we move forward.”

Some of this is the nonsense that losing candidates have to say as their campaigns wind down, but some of it reflects the serious errors in Rubio’s campaign strategy from the beginning. Everyone else looks at Rubio’s serial losing and correctly declares it a failure, but according to Rubio’s campaign this is mostly what they expected to happen. They claim to believe for some reason that as the contest moves into winner-take-all states in the Midwest and Northeast that the map “gets better” for them, but this is clearly not true.

Just as many observers failed to anticipate Trump’s strength in blue-state primaries, Rubio boosters have mistakenly expected him to do well in blue states that are probably even less hospitable to him than the states that have already voted. Rubio is an “establishment” candidate who has never dominated among moderate and “somewhat” conservative voters as an “establishment” candidate normally does, so he will likely do worse in almost all of the elections coming up in the next week and a half because the map is actually getting worse for his campaign. Rubio’s campaign relied on the belief that it was possible to win by losing dozens of races before somehow reviving suddenly to seize the biggest prizes, but there was never any good reason to think this would work. The idea that Rubio would succeed in his long-shot bid for the nomination was always a fantasy, and it tells us everything we need to know about the political judgment of the senator and his many boosters that they have believed it for this long.

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17 Comments To "The Decline and Fall of Rubio"

#1 Comment By jk On March 6, 2016 @ 2:21 pm

Rubio keeps on getting those participation ribbons though.

Podhoretz, Kristol, and all those that have the pulse of the GOP claim he’s the best thing since Romeny. He’s still in the fight, just like the little Scrappy Doo that he is.

Speaking of never beens,


No guac bowl discount though.

Shame, refugees in Europe could have used this stuff to keep warm at night.

#2 Comment By H.K. Anders On March 6, 2016 @ 2:26 pm

What I still don’t understand is how and why Rubio’s media boosters continued to promote him even as he racked up failure after failure and demonstrated his ineptitude as a candidate.

He was declared to be the winner of every early debate, no matter how he actually performed. When he delivered that absurd victory speech after placing third in Iowa, they swallowed it hook, sinker and line. Despite abundant evidence to the contrary, they have played right along with the fantasy that, were all the others to drop out, voters would flock to Rubio as the Trump-slayer.

Rubio has no record of a accomplishment as a legislator. His time in the senate is defined by a record of laziness, absenteeism and opportunism.

And having spent his entire adult life as a politician, he has no private-sector accomplishments, either.

Are political reporters really that gullible and susceptible to spin?

#3 Comment By Josh On March 6, 2016 @ 3:28 pm

I think there’s a hidden or buried lesson in here for what a lot of conservatives think about Obama, which is that he was just a good speaker who benefitted from a lot of positive media coverage. Many in the Republican establishment probably thought on some level that the same either was or could be true of Rubio.

The continued refusal to take President Obama seriously remains a major problem for Republicans. Many (if not most) still see him as a lightweight pretender, rather than the heavyweight, deeply complex man he is.

#4 Comment By Adam Rosenthal On March 6, 2016 @ 5:04 pm

@ Josh

Well, they veer vertiginously between seeing him as a lightweight pretender and an all-devouring tyrant.

One thing that’s interesting re Rubio is that it was the danger of being equated with Obama that resulted in his ‘Let’s dispel with this fiction’ moment – which is the point at which his campaign, temporally if not causally, began to seriously unravel.

He seems to have been primed to pre-emptively attack the notion that his inexperience makes him weak like (supposedly) Obama’s did, which is why he pursued this angle that Obama isn’t really weak, he ‘knows exactly what he’s doing’. I think it was the sheer conceptual half-assedness of this talking point that led to his short-circuit. He had no idea in the moment why he was saying it, he just knew that he was supposed to hit that message.

#5 Comment By Uncle Billy On March 6, 2016 @ 8:28 pm

Rubio’s TV ads touted him as the candidate Hillary most fears. Indeed. The conservative media kept telling us how great Marco was, but somehow, he never quite lived up to expectations. He reminds me of a Heisman Trophy winner who never quite makes it in the NFL, but his backers keep parroting what a great college player he was.

He does not even strike me as being all that smart, such as Ted Cruz, just a handsome face and lots of ambition. He is the candidate of the future. Always will be.

#6 Comment By Dan On March 6, 2016 @ 8:33 pm

I agree Adam. rubios candidacy never recovered from that debate disaster.

the question is can trump come back from last week’s flops. from my calculations hea around 15 to 20 points lower than he was. He was very fortunate to not be clobbered on Saturday by eeking out states he was expected to win by landslides

If his anti globalist rhetoric wins him Michigan I think he may have stopped the sinking. he won’t get back to where he was anytime soon. Maybe the general election if he can pick up his game and appeal to working class America black and white.

#7 Comment By Latter Day Gibbon On March 6, 2016 @ 10:55 pm

Whaddya mean “decline and fall”? He just won Puerto Rico and its rich haul of zero Electoral College votes! This is the turnaround we’ve all been waiting for!

#8 Comment By bacon On March 7, 2016 @ 12:03 am

As I understand it from reading TAC posts and comments, Marco Rubio had a troubled financial life for several years before he was picked as a spear carrier candidate for the presidency by the usual billionaire suspects. He seems to have no useful skills. As it becomes clear that voters don’t care for him, what will he do if the billionaires decide he isn’t their guy after all? Are we going to see a presidential candidate living in his pickup truck?

#9 Comment By Alexandra On March 7, 2016 @ 1:28 am

Rubio’s free trade dogma has little to offer to blue collar states, obviously. I’d be amazed if he finishes higher than third in Michigan or Ohio. They should be Trump states.

And his “Israel first” stuff really is starting to grate. So many speeches have this “standing with Israel” nonsense within the first few minutes. At least now we all realize why he’s doing it – Sheldon’s money.

#10 Comment By Winston On March 7, 2016 @ 2:04 am

He always struck me as hollow, an empty suit. Now I realize why. He is a former Lobbyist. From there he rose up. Another proof of the revolving door!

#11 Comment By Linkmeister On March 7, 2016 @ 2:35 am

I know the campaign and the Super Pac MUST NOT coordinate, but someone should have pointed out to the Pac that Hawai’i has eight elected Republicans in the entire state. Blowing thousands of bucks running ads for Rubio three times per half-hour of local news might persuade those eight (not really; the one state senator in the R column endorsed Cruz today), but there aren’t enough voting Republicans here to heat up a soldering iron.

#12 Comment By Daniel (not Larison ) On March 7, 2016 @ 7:58 am

This may be somewhat off-topic, but I can’t help but being struck a at the manifestly unfair and in efficenct primary process. Four aspects stand out:

(1) That a political party’s primary is subsidized by the state.

(2) That political party identification (or lack thereof) is cause for disenfranchisement (ie, if you are not registered in a particular political party, you cannot vote in this state-subsidized election.) Choose one or the other: either stop subsidizing the process of choosing a party’s nominee, or let every citizen over 18 vote in it.

(3) The “winner takes all” states grossly distort the Democratic process. (Yes, pure democracy is not the goal–but departing from it should be defended for sound reasons.)

(4) Why should the votes in early primary states have more weight than later states? Why should voters in Iowa and New Hampshire have more say that say, those in New Mexico?

What would be so terrible if elections were held in every state on the same day? And what about a simple run-off electoral process that didn’t even recognize party affiliation?

#13 Comment By collin On March 7, 2016 @ 9:20 am

As somebody thought that Rubio strategy of Do-or-Die in Florida made some long term sense, he will have to stick to that strategy. I assumed even if Rubio lost that he could easily remain in the spotlight with radio and TV appearances so he could better set himself for future positions. (And it pays better than the Senate.) However, his campaign is fast becoming a pop/political joke and he will need to retire his honorably if he does not win Florida.

#14 Comment By Traveling Salesman On March 7, 2016 @ 10:53 am

“Are we going to see a presidential candidate living in his pickup truck?”

Norman Braman specializes in luxury lines, e.g. Cadillac, Bentley, Rolls Royce, so you can be pretty sure his ride will be posher than a pickup truck. Rubio deeply believes in the American Dream, you see, which he understands to be “fail upward”.

#15 Comment By Calvin On March 7, 2016 @ 11:52 am

Nah. Rubio will leave the Senate for a lucrative career as a lobbyist. I predict he’ll do just fine at it, and make quite a bit more than he did as an absentee senator.

#16 Comment By Eric On March 7, 2016 @ 5:13 pm

Maybe someone can explain, but I fail to see how winning FL helps Rubio very much UNLESS accompanied by other big (and even less likely) wins on March 15, like NC and IL.

I’m relying on 538’s count of won vs target delegates.


As of now, with 153 delegates Rubio has won just 49% of the delegates he needs to have at this point in the race. (Trump at 104%, Cruz at 65%.) Let’s be charitable and say Rubio does very well in the primaries from now through March 14 and comes in with 237 delegates. Then let’s say he wins Florida. That gets him to 336, which will still be just 55% of his 606 target as of March 15. Winning NC and IL would get him to 79%, which at least is somewhat within striking distance but STILL not over the hump.

An honest assessment would be that Rubio is pretty much hopelessly behind unless he starts winning not just Florida, but most of the other big states. There’s just no basis for such optimism.

#17 Comment By panda On March 8, 2016 @ 10:00 am

“What would be so terrible if elections were held in every state on the same day? And what about a simple run-off electoral process that didn’t even recognize party affiliation?

If that was the case, the most funded and well-known candidate would win every time, and we would lose a genuinely useful feature of the current process: observe how candidates behave when setbacks hit. The real travesty is that the same states go first year after year, and other states (including the largest, California) don’t matter at all. If I was dictator, I’d create a shifting calendar, with states going first in year x, going last in year y.