Rubio the Spoiler
Nineteen states have now voted. Here are Marco Rubio’s vote percentages and ranking in each:
Percent of vote
This is not the performance of a candidate with a future.
Rubio did worse in Maine than he did in New Hampshire, Vermont or Massachusetts. He did worse in Kentucky than he did in Arkansas or Tennessee. He did worse in Louisiana than he did in South Carolina or Alabama. He did worse in Kansas than he did in Iowa or Oklahoma. And he did worse even though the field has narrowed over the course of those contests, leaving him the default candidate to consolidate the “establishment” vote.
And Rubio is making no claims that he will do well in the next four states to vote on Wednesday. As well he shouldn’t. I don’t know how anyone knows how Hawaii will vote, but Idaho seems like prime Cruz country, and based on Rubio’s dismal performance in Louisiana, one would expect him to perform equally badly in Mississippi, perhaps badly enough to be shut out of delegates entirely.
Meanwhile, in Michigan, there have been five polls since Super Tuesday:
Fox 2 Detroit/Mitchell 3/2-3/2
The most recent poll from ARG is clearly an outlier, but Rubio’s numbers don’t look much better without it. And after yesterday, it’s likely that Cruz’s numbers will improve. It’s very hard to imagine Rubio’s will. Michigan is another state where Rubio may not even clear the threshold to receive delegates.
Then, on March 15th come Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio – and Florida.
How’s Rubio polling in those states?
Illinois was polled twice in February. In one, Rubio was in third place with 14%; in the other, he was in second place with 21%. This is unquestionably Rubio’s best shot in the Midwest, but it’s hard to imagine his standing has improved much in the wake of his string of losses on Super Tuesday and since.
Missouri has not been polled. But Cruz won neighboring Iowa, Kansas, and Oklahoma, while coming in a strong second in neighboring Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee. Trump won Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee, and came in second in Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma. It would be genuinely shocking if Rubio did better than a weak third in Missouri; the question is whether the state goes to Trump or Cruz.
North Carolina has been polled four times since January. Rubio polled third in all four polls, behind Trump and Cruz. None of those polls were taken in March, since Cruz’s and Trump’s multiple wins and Rubio’s multiple failures to win. I would assume again that Rubio will place a distant third.
Ohio was polled once in February. Rubio placed a distant fourth.
And then there’s Florida. Florida has been polled six times this year. Rubio has never led. In the most recent February polls, he has trailed Trump by between 15 and 20 points. Florida was also polled 21 times in 2015. Rubio never led in any of those polls either. Rubio is significantly less-popular in his home state that Cruz is in his, or Kasich is in his – or, I’d venture, than Trump is in his. Rubio best chance of winning his home state is that Cruz’s efforts to out-hustle him boost the Texan’s standing at the expense of Trump rather than Rubio, and enable the Florida Senator to win a close three-way race. Otherwise, he’s probably toast.
Rubio is counting on Florida to revive his campaign. But the state is not just his only real shot at a major win. It’s his only good shot at placing second. Which, in winner-take-all Florida, is worth a total of zero delegates.
“Spoiler” is the right word for Rubio’s campaign at this point. If the GOP establishment really wanted to stop Trump, they would pressure Rubio to drop out right now. His departure might put Cruz (or possibly Kasich) over the top in Michigan. It would certainly remove a key obstacle to a Cruz upset in Mississippi. Then, on March 15th, it would likely put Kasich over the top in Ohio, and possibly put Illinois into contention as well, and would very likely put Cruz over the top in Missouri and North Carolina. Losing Florida to Trump would be a small price to pay for such a thorough repudiation of the New York mogul in the other major states in play.
By contrast, if he stays in, Rubio will likely pull enough votes from Cruz to hand Trump a win in Mississippi, and enough from Cruz and Kasich to keep Trump on top in Michigan. That would set Trump up to possibly squeak out a win over Kasich in Ohio, and over Cruz in North Carolina and Missouri. And then Rubio will likely lose Florida anyway.
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.
After all, those unacceptable, uncontrollable, unaccountable candidates – Trump and Cruz – have between them won an outright majority of the vote, and sometimes an overwhelming majority, in every single primary and caucus so far, save two: New Hampshire and Vermont. Which happen to be two of the three states where Marco Rubio came in behind even poor John Kasich. Their joint share of the vote has increased as the campaign has gone on. They even jointly won a majority in Minnesota, the only state little Marco has managed to win so far.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there is no anti-Trump majority to consolidate. There is an anti-establishment majority. And the only question has been which candidate, if any, will consolidate it.