The presidential campaign of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is in disarray as the first-term Florida Senator’s window of opportunity for the White House seems to be slamming shut.
Questions about his supposed viability as a presidential candidate forcefully surface, even inside his own inner circle, amid horrendous performances by the establishment-backed candidate.
CNN’s Jamie Gangel and Tal Kolpan reported late Monday:
A battle is being waged within Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s campaign about whether he should even remain in the Republican presidential race ahead of his home state primary on March 15, sources say. Rubio himself is ‘bullish’ on his odds of winning the critical primary, despite some advisers who are less hopeful and believe a loss there would damage him politically in both the short- and long-term. Publicly, the campaign is maintaining they are still a contender in this race, touting a Sunday win in Puerto Rico’s primary that delivered Rubio 23 delegates. But privately, the campaign is having a debate about whether he should remain in the mix — even for his home state of Florida’s primary.
Gangel and Kolpan quoted a source familiar with such discussions inside the Rubio campaign—specifically that he should drop out before Florida to protect his dwindling political future—as saying that Rubio “doesn’t want to get killed in his home state.” That source told CNN that in Florida “a poor showing would be a risk and hurt his political future.”
Rubio, who has significantly underperformed in every primary and caucus to date, has only racked up two wins. And only one of those, Minnesota, was an actual state—the same and only state of 50 that GOP icon Ronald Reagan lost to Democrat Walter Mondale in the 1984 presidential election, prompting some to compare Rubio’s failures to Mondale’s failures. The other was Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory where Rubio was the only GOP candidate to campaign heavily—and he did so in Spanish frequently, something that may come back to haunt him stateside as most Americans, polling data shows, support English becoming the official language of the United States of America.
Rubio finished an abysmal third place in Iowa, an even worse fifth place in New Hampshire behind the since-dropped-out Rubio mentor former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a distant second place in South Carolina, and an even more distant second place in Nevada. On Super Tuesday, Rubio missed the mark statewide in Texas and Alabama—failing to get access to either state’s rich delegate count, only winning a handful of delegates across both thanks to his congressional district performances—and he finished all the way back in third place in Arkansas and Oklahoma after his campaign predicted victories in each on election day, according to Bloomberg News. In Virginia, Rubio finished second behind frontrunner Donald Trump despite predicting victory there too.
Florida polling hasn’t been promising for Rubio. A Monmouth poll of Florida released on Monday shows Rubio trailing Trump in his home state of Florida by eight points a little over a week from election day there on March 15—next Tuesday. While that has him closing the gap from Quinnipiac and PPP polls in late February that had Trump up 16 points and 20 points over Rubio, respectively, it’s still a mountain to climb at home.
“Most of the senator’s advisers agree he does not have a path to the nomination and some are advising him to get out ahead of the March 15 primary,” Gangel and Kolpan wrote for CNN.
Gangel and Kolpan also wrote that Rubio’s team is expecting a bad day on Tuesday this week, when GOP voters in Michigan, Mississippi, Idaho, and Hawaii head to the polls.
“Sources within the campaign also say the pressure will only continue to mount following an expected disappointing showing Tuesday, when voters in Michigan, Mississippi, Hawaii and Idaho make their picks in the GOP primary,” the CNN reporters wrote.
“Not going to have a great day is an understatement,” a Rubio campaign source told CNN.
All of that came amid a perhaps even more brutal report from the Associated Press, which spoke with several high-dollar GOP donors who conceded that Rubio isn’t what the party establishment made him out to be.
“Just when Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio needs them the most, big-dollar contributors from the party’s wealthy main stream are having second thoughts about his future in the 2016 race,” the AP wrote. “Fresh misgivings about Rubio’s path forward are the latest – and potentially the most debilitating – in a series of obstacles that threatens the Florida senator’s future in this rollercoaster Republican campaign.”
The newswire then quoted several donors by name on the record as saying they question Rubio’s viability.
“Super Tuesday came and Rubio didn’t do as well as some of us hoped. So people are saying, ‘Let’s see how this thing shakes out,’” Craig Duchossois, who gave half a million dollars to Bush’s Super PAC last year, told the AP before adding of his plans with regard to Rubio: “I’m holding back.”
“We’ll see what happens on next Tuesday in Florida,” Ron Gidwitz, another Chicago GOP donor who switched from Bush to Rubio, added. “We’ll see how real he is at that point.”
Suffice it to say, if that wasn’t a bad enough day for the Rubio campaign, it got even worse when their communications director Alex Conant huffed and puffed in a CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer that all was well in wonderland:
Wolf, Jamie’s [Gangel’s] report was utter nonsense. She did not contact the campaign prior to coming on the show last hour and reporting that. It is 100 percent absolutely false. I think CNN is doing a disservice to voters by airing that sort of reporting without even checking with the campaign. Her sources, whoever they are, have no idea what the internal deliberations of the campaign are because if she did she would know that Marco feels confident about Florida.
Blitzer, unfazed by Contant’s attacks on his network, noted that Gangel’s sources were not just “close to the campaign” but “inside the campaign.”
When Blitzer asked Conant if, since Rubio is looking more and more like he will lose Florida to Trump, he’d “be smart, especially if he doesn’t do well tomorrow let’s say in Michigan and Mississippi, maybe to avoid some sort of humiliation, keep his credentials, it may be smart to get out even before March 15,”
Conant attacked Blitzer in response:
Wolf, I have a lot of respect for you but I’m going to ask you to stop reading that sort of fiction on air. Because it is not true at all. If Jamie had checked with the campaign, if Jamie had good sources in the campaign, she would have known that that is not true. That is fiction and CNN should stop reporting it.
“You don’t know—there may be some private advisers, some senior advisers, who aren’t necessarily coordinating with the campaign just speaking as sometimes they do candidly to a journalist,” Blitzer followed up.
A smug Conant stuck to his story. “That’s just not the case,” Conant replied. “That’s just not the case, Wolf. I was sitting in a senior staff meeting planning out next week’s schedule when I saw this report suddenly air and I came racing town [to correct it].”
WATCH RUBIO SPOKESMAN ALEX CONANT’S MELTDOWN IN WOLF BLITZER INTERVIEW:
Shortly thereafter, appearing on CNN, Gangel—the reporter who broke the story to begin with—tripled down, despite Conant’s claims her report was inaccurate. Gangel said:
We were told that there’s been a serious internal debate by a very knowledgeable source, and that debate is about whether or not he should drop out before Florida. That source told us that top advisers have told Rubio that they do not see a path to the nomination and they’re advising him to get out before Florida for a simple reason: They don’t want him ‘to get killed’ in his home state and they’re afraid that a poor showing would be a risk and hurt his political future, whether someday he might want to run for governor or being considered for vice president. Now, for the record, Alex Conant—the communications director for the Rubio campaign—came on our air last hour. He was very upset about this report. He said it was not true, that there is no dissent within the campaign, and once again repeated that Rubio was staying in. But, we double checked with our source, who confirmed that our story was 100 percent correct. So, the Rubio campaign may not be happy the story is out there when they’re fighting for their life and trailing in the polls. They don’t want people to know there’s dissent in the campaign. But the reality is we were told there has been a serious debate about whether he should drop out before the Florida primary, and also because they’re very concerned that tomorrow he’s not going to do very well in any of those states.