On SEC Super Tuesday, Donald Trump cleaned up. He won seven states and now leads the field with 319 delegates entering a comfortable stretch for him before winner-take-all states kick in.
Senator Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)
97% did better than expected, too: he won his home state of Texas, but also pulled out victories in Oklahoma and Alaska. That means he’s now won four states and has 226 delegates. Then there’s Senator
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) 79%.
Rubio has benefitted from more generous media attention than Beyonce. Rubio got clocked last night – after his staffers forecast he could win up to four states, he carried just Minnesota. That’s the only state he’s won. He has 110 delegates total. His vaunted 3-2-1 victory plan – third in Iowa, second in New Hampshire, and first in South Carolina – has devolved into 3-5-2-2-3-3-3-2-3-1-3-3-3-3-2.
But don’t worry – he has all the momentum!
Rubio’s been parroting that line for weeks. Last week, Rubio said, “First of all we have to understand that you don’t win the nomination by how many states you win…Now, ultimately when you get to winner-take-all starting March 15th, you have to win states…”
Last night, Rubio repeated that inspiring message: “We are so excited about what lies ahead for our campaign. The pundits say we’re underdogs. I’ll accept that. We’ve all been underdogs. This is a community of underdogs. This is a state of underdogs. This is a country of underdogs. But we will win.”
Some members of the media dutifully reported Rubio’s spin; Karl Rove, in all of his vast genius, touted Rubio’s momentum as Fox News called Virginia for Trump, then proceeded to state that Rubio had “basically fought Trump to a draw.”
But the reality is that Rubio’s on the ropes. Rubio’s only shot at stopping Trump or anyone else is winning Florida. The latest poll averages put him twenty points behind Trump; the latest Quinnipiac poll, taken before SEC Tuesday, the last debate, and Trump’s bizarre refusal to condemn David Duke and the KKK on CNN, showed Trump up 44 percent to Rubio’s 28 percent. In fact, Trump has led every Florida poll since last August; before that, Jeb! Bush led every Florida poll going back to March. The last time Rubio led a poll in his home state was January, 2014. Seriously.
The Rubio camp hopes that Trump’s slight underperformance on Super Tuesday means that his strategy of pummeling Trump personally is paying dividends; they also hope that Trump’s momentum will falter after the next debate.That’s a lot to hope for.
Meanwhile, the Cruz team is now stating that they’ll contest Florida, which would prevent Rubio from winning there – his only hope for a comeback in this campaign. And anti-Fox News muckraker Gabriel Sherman now says that the channel has abandoned all hope for Rubio: “According to three Fox sources, Fox chief Roger Ailes has told people he’s lost confidence in Rubio’s ability to win. ‘We’re finished with Rubio,’ Ailes recently told a Fox Host. ‘We can’t do the Rubio thing anymore.’” Sherman reports that a recent New York Times article linking Ailes to Rubio’s Gang of Eight bill in 2013 created a split with Rubio.
Further, the next few weeks feature a bunch of primaries that won’t boost Rubio in the slightest. Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Maine all vote March 5; then it’s Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan, and Mississippi. Rubio is unlikely to win any of those. On Super Tuesday, Rubio must hope to win Florida, but the other states don’t help him: he needs Ohio Governor John Kasich to win Ohio to stop Trump there, but Trump is likely to do well in Washington D.C., Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina. Even if Rubio somehow pulls out a miracle in Florida, Cruz isn’t going to drop out at that point – he still has more delegates. If Cruz did drop out, there’s a solid shot that Trump would pick up some of his votes. And if Cruz and Rubio both remain in the race, Trump wins the nomination – he will only have to walk through the middle and capitalize on the vote split in order to pick up winner-take-all states with a minor plurality.
The conventional wisdom says Rubio stays in through Florida – that he has to do that. But if Rubio loses Florida to Trump, his political career, not merely his presidential run, may be done. Remember, he’s already dumped out of another Senate run, and a gubernatorial run could collapse in front of him if he loses statewide to Trump. Pulling out early could preserve the possibility of a political future for the junior senator from Florida.
It’s near time for Rubio to go. If he doesn’t see a major boost in his polls in his home state over the next week, his best option is to pull out and endorse Cruz. There are only two questions: does he have enough modesty to do it? And will the establishment let him turn over his supporters to an anti-establishment candidate like Cruz? If the answer to either of those questions is no, Trump is certainly the nominee.