I’ve had several people suggest to me that U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) should be the candidate to drop out and let U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) run solo against current front runner Donald Trump. I’ve made the case it should be the other way around, but I acknowledge this wouldn’t even be likely until after the Florida Primary on March 15th. I’ve advocated for a Cruz-Rubio unity ticket. I still think that is the best route to go, but it would take egos and ambition to be set aside and that is rarely done in politics.
I want to give you six reasons why I don’t think Rubio trumps Cruz to be the last man standing against Trump (yes pun intended).
1. Reality – Rubio is in 3rd Place
Look the reality is that Rubio is a distant 3rd in the delegate count. Cruz is closer to Trump in terms of delegates than he is Rubio.
Look below at the delegate count post-Super Tuesday courtesy of The Weekly Standard:
- Trump, 319 (26 percent of the total needed for the nomination)
- Cruz, 226 (18 percent of the total needed)
- Rubio, 110 (9 percent)
- Kasich, 25 (2 percent)
Then you have the percentage of the vote so far:
- Trump, 34.2 percent
- Cruz, 28.1 percent
- Rubio, 21.7 percent
- Kasich, 6.6 percent
Rubio at this point is pretty far behind.
2. The Virginia Primary electoral map.
The Rubio camp points to their almost draw in Virginia as proof they will overcome the deficit they face in Florida. Well, I’m not so sure.
Take a look at the picture below:
Take a look at the area I’ve circled. Those three Northern Virginia counties including Arlington and Alexandria carried Rubio, this is where he had his widest margin, Trump even came in third in one county. The vote was fairly close in the Richmond area, but not as much in those three Northern Virginia counties. Rubio received a third of his total state-wide vote from those three counties. Those who know their states and capitals should know what resides just to the Northeast of Rubio country – Washington, DC. So congratulations Rubio, you won the establishment stronghold, but still managed to lose Virginia. It is unlikely he’ll see such favorable demographics in any other state (with exception of Southern Maryland I suppose) and they turned out for him.
3. Rubio has not won a Republican-leaning state.
Rubio finally won a state when he won the Minnesota Caucus and took a whopping four delegates more than Cruz out of the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Minnesota is not a Republican stronghold. Sure they’ve elected Tim Pawlenty and Norm Coleman, but they’ve also elected Jesse Ventura and Al Franklin.
Even in Virginia, a swing state, the territory Rubio won is Democrat country. Those counties went for Democrat Governor Terry McAuliffe in the state’s gubernatorial election in 2013.
My point in bringing this up? Rubio claims to be the unity candidate, but he doesn’t do as well in places he is going to have to rely on in a general election. Perhaps those folks will rally for him in a general election, perhaps not. With the current temperament of the electorate I’m not so sure, it’s not likely that those upset with Congress will be less so by the time November rolls around and Rubio, not Cruz, is seen as being tied in with Republican leadership. In a conventional year that would probably be seen as a good thing, this cycle has been anything but conventional.
Rubio supporters repeat after me – without winning Florida your candidate’s campaign is effectively over. Trump has almost an average 19 point lead over Rubio in the winner-take-all state of Florida. Second place means nothing. The state offers 99 delegates. Here’s the thing, pointing to a surge in Virginia as proof you’ll overcome this poll disadvantage in Florida is ludicrous for simple reason – Floridians know Marco Rubio. Also, at the risk of repeating myself, you had establishment Republicans come out en masse in Northern Virginia to carry Rubio.
Public Policy Polling points out his favorability rating as Senator has cratered in his own home state and he trails in a hypothetical one-on-one race with Donald Trump by a wide margin. They also note that 36% could change their minds, but that Trump’s support is more solidified as any other candidate. You have to wonder how doing poorly on Super Tuesday and if Rubio doesn’t win any state leading up to Florida how many voters will change their minds and vote for him. PPP points out that 46% of Rubio’s support could change their mind still as well.
If I were a betting man I would not want to bet on those odds. Momentum means something, and Rubio doesn’t have any.
5. John Kasich
Ohio Governor John Kasich is in the race until at least the Ohio Primary which also falls on March 15th. The Rubio camp and GOP Establishment has already blamed Kasich for Rubio’s loss in Virginia, but he’s going to be in the way in every state that has a primary before and on March 15th.
I think it’s unfair to blame Kasich for Rubio’s losses, but I think it is fair to say Kasich’s presence in the race poses a greater problem for Rubio than Cruz or Trump. Ben Carson, a candidate who did find more of his base of support among evangelicals, is now out of the race. Which candidate that helps the most is uncertain, but I doubt it will hurt Cruz.
Kasich is also better positioned in Ohio than Rubio looking at the most recent (and only poll taken in 2016) shows Rubio in fourth place behind Trump, Kasich and Cruz. This state is also winner take all with 66 delegates, and Kasich is just five points behind Trump. If Kasich wins Ohio and Rubio loses Florida, well, good luck keeping donors interested. Also you have the Michigan Primary on March 8th with 59 delegates. Looking at the last poll released Trump leads with 42% and Cruz is in 2nd place with 20% (which is actually up from previous polls). Rubio again is 4th place behind Kasich once again. This state has a winner-take-all trigger if a candidate hits 50% otherwise it is proportional and the threshold is 15%. Rubio in the last two polls is at 14% and 15%. If he underperforms he’ll receive no delegates in Michigan which doesn’t help his pathway to the nomination narrative or convince voters to back him in Florida.
6. No Marcomentum
The Rubio campaign likes to say theoretically Cruz’s strongest states were on Super Tuesday and before yet Cruz leads Rubio in Louisiana, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Missouri. These are all states that he can pick up delegates in even if he does not win and add to his delegate lead over Rubio. I believe the Idaho Primary (no polling done) and the Kentucky Caucus (older and unreliable polling) could see Cruz finish strong as well.
To date Rubio was unable to beat Trump in Virginia, an establishment bastion, and he was unable to close the deal on the establishment vote in New Hampshire which encouraged both Jeb Bush and Kasich to stick around. He was unable to beat Trump in states like Massachusetts and Vermont which should have been friendlier.
While Cruz would have liked to have won more states on Super Tuesday he has five victories over Trump to Rubio’s one.