538’s Nate Silver Explains How Establishment Will Throw Race to Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio Perfect Package ReutersChris Keane
Reuters/Chris Keane

In a Monday panel discussion, 538’s editor-in-chief Nate Silver, who famously predicted the outcome of the 2012 election, outlined how the GOP establishment could throw the 2016 election to Marco Rubio.

During the discussion, entitled, “Marco Rubio: Overrated, Underrated, or Properly Rated,” 538’s senior writers and editors sought to dissect why Rubio has failed to gain significant traction with the GOP electorate despite the establishment media’s repeated efforts to boost his candidacy.

As 538’s political editor Micah Cohen explained, “There are a few weeks when convention wisdom seemed to hold that Rubio was the front-runner. But he never got much of a bump in the polls. He got some endorsements but never more than a trickle.”

“People are wondering why Rubio isn’t doing better,” Cohen said.

Silver told viewers that because Rubio is the establishment’s candidate, it doesn’t matter that he has yet to gain traction with voters. By employing an analogy which Silver described as “a soft version of the ‘Party Decides’ theory,” Silver explained that all Rubio has to do is win one early state election, and the race will essentially be given to him. Silver said:

Imagine that the party establishment is the referee in a boxing match. It has one boxer it would prefer to see win. But it can’t rig the match once it’s underway. However, it can choose when to call the fight. So if its preferred boxer — let’s call him Red — is winning early, it can call the fight after a couple of rounds. But if he’s losing, they can let the fight keep going and hope he prevails on the basis of his stamina. And if all else fails, they can hope he’ll deliver a desperate knockout blow at the end. This boxer is not guaranteed to win by any means. He’s screwed if his opponent leads wire to wire, but he’s getting a lot of second and third chances when his opponent might not. And that makes his overall odds pretty good. He just has to lead at any point and the refs can call the match. I’m getting sort of abstract here, but I’ve been thinking a lot about what sort of power the party establishment does and does not have. And a lot of it is having some persuasive power to set the rules of engagement and strategically encourage winnowing of the field.

As 538 has previously explained, the “Invisible Primary” is the period during which “‘Party elites’ seek to coalesce around the candidates they find most acceptable as their party’s nominee. Over the past few decades, when these elites have reached a consensus on the best candidate, rank-and-file voters have usually followed.” As Georgetown Professor Hans Noel, who wrote the 2008 book The Party Decides has explained, in order to understand the “invisible primary” one should, “look at presidential nominations not from the point of the view of the people trying to get the nomination, but from the point of view of the party that’s trying to bestow it. There are only a handful of people in the party that are running for office. Most of the people in the party are not running for office, but they really care about who wins the nomination and who wins the general election. And so we should tell the story from the point of view of the players in the party who have an opinion about who the nominee should be and can do something about it.”

Phyllis Schlafly described the “Party Decides” phenomenon fifty years ago in her landmark book, A Choice Not An Echo. Schlafly explained that  the American people have been “robbed of their constitutional birthright to a Presidential choice:”

Most Americans think the next president of the United States will be selected on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November 1964 when we go to the polls to vote. Most Americans think they will vote for a candidate who has been selected in their Party’s political convention by Delegates who voted their honest convictions and chose the man best qualified to lead their Party to victory. This may be what is taught in the schoolbooks, but this ideal is frequently contrary to political reality. From 1936 through 1960 the Republican presidential nominee was selected by a small group of secret kingmakers who are the most powerful opinion makers in the world. They dictated the choice of the Republican presidential nominee just as completely as the Paris dressmakers control the length of women’s skirts.

Reports and political pundits confirm that Rubio is now the Establishment and donor class’s preferred candidate. On Monday’s program of Morning Joe,  the New York Times’ Nick Confessore said that Rubio, “is the establishment candidate. They love him. That’s his crowd now.” Confessore agreed with the characterizations that Rubio is “the Senate Cloakroom candidate now with [Lindsey] Graham is out, with Bush faltering.” Confessore also pointed out that Rubio “had two huge fundraisers with Paul Singer, who is also funding the pro-immigration reform wing of the GOP. This is one of his biggest guys.”

Similarly, MSNBC contributor Mike Barnicle said that the Establishment is “waiting for him,” and Joe Scarborough said that, “The elites… fund his [Rubio’s] campaign.”

Scarborough mocked Rubio’s attempts to portray himself as the anti-donor class candidate saying, “So here’s a guy [Rubio] that flies around in private jets every day. And he has for years. Here’s a guy that sits in luxury suites at Miami Dolphins’ football games and other football games around America. Here’s a guy that got paid $800,000 by a massive, powerful, Manhattan publishing company to write a book. $800,000– more than most of the people he’s shaking hands with make in ten years. He makes it for writing a book.”

Scarborough said that Rubio’s efforts to cast himself as the anti-establishment candidate come across as transparent. “This is what a student government president does when he wants to get elected,” Scarborough said.

As New Hampshire’s Conway Daily Sun reporter Erik Eisele wrote after meeting with Rubio:

We had roughly 20 minutes with him [Rubio] on Monday, and in that time, he talked about ISIS, the economy, his political record and his background. But it was like watching a computer algorithm designed to cover talking points. He said a lot but at the same time said nothing. It was like someone wound him up, pointed him toward the doors and pushed ‘play.’ If there was a human side to the senator, a soul, it didn’t come across.


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