Alex Isenstadt writes at Politico:
With his strong showing in the caucuses here, Marco Rubio is growing closer to consolidating the establishment wing of the Republican Party – and tightening the noose around the necks of his mainstream GOP rivals, including Jeb Bush.
Rubio’s third-place finish, top party officials, donors, and strategists said on Tuesday, positioned him to take the establishment mantle and win over Republican leaders who are eager to coalesce around a single candidate and halt insurgents Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. His foes, conceding that time was growing short to demonstrate strength, spent the day in private strategy sessions where they plotted how to prevent powerful supporters from bolting.
“Marco Rubio controls his own destiny for the first time in this campaign,” said Josh Holmes, a former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “If he performs in New Hampshire it is very difficult to see how his campaign won’t quickly consolidate a lot of support.”
With the GOP hierarchy warming to Rubio, the squeeze is suddenly on struggling establishment contenders Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Bush, who must convince party higher-ups that they have a reason to continue on. On Tuesday morning, top Bush donors and finance officials held two conference calls to discuss the path forward. On one, according to one participant, there was an acknowledgement of the campaign’s increasingly long odds and an agreement that, barring a strong Bush showing in New Hampshire, many Bush donors would soon bolt to Rubio.
“Have you ever heard the phrase ‘rattle of death?’” the participant said, describing the mood on both calls.
Two Bush aides, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there was growing concern that Rubio was on the verge of getting a wave of endorsements from senators, state party chairs, and influential party officials and donors – a scenario, they conceded, that would give Rubio an aura of invincibility in the fight for support in the establishment lane. For Bush to remain viable, they said, he would need to out-perform Rubio in New Hampshire, a state that the former Florida governor has made a cornerstone of his primary campaign. Many top GOP officials see the state as the last, best chance for Rubio’s establishment rivals to stop him.
Read the rest here.