The Theory of President Marco Rubio Breaks Against Reality

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Super Saturday was a disaster for Marco Rubio and his hopes of claiming the Republican nomination. Any path Marco Rubio had to the 2016 nomination via actual Republican voters is gone.

Marco Rubio’s only path to the nomination is via the collective machinations of a few thousand delegates, elected GOP officials and party elders who will meet in Cleveland.

It is possible, to be sure. It may, as Ted Cruz suggests, provoke a “revolt” among Republican voters, but, as a theory, held up against the light in just a certain way, it could work.

It is most likley to fail, however. Which is fitting, because Marco Rubio’s entire campaign has been built on a theory, or several theories, that have crashed upon the rocks of a sober reality.

To put this in terms my teenage daughters will understand, Republican voters just aren’t that into Marco Rubio.

Marco Rubio missed the threshold for delegates in two of the four states voting on Super Saturday, even though the thresholds were generous. In Maine, Rubio finished fourth with just 8 percent of the vote. In Louisiana, Rubio finished with just 11 percent of the vote, despite the strong backing of the state’s sitting governor, Bobby Jindal. In Kentucky and Kansas, Rubio finished closer to John Kasich than either Ted Cruz or Donald Trump.

One of the later theories of Marco Rubio was that as soon as other mainstream Republican candidates dropped out of the race, voters would consolidate behind Rubio. Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and even Ben Carson have now left the race, yet Rubio seems to be losing ground rather than gaining.

Even if Rubio scores a miraculous come-from-behind, winner-take-all-delegates victory in Florida on March 15th, he can’t close the huge delegate gap with Trump because most of the remaining states distribute their delegates proportionally.

If somehow Trump does not get a majority of delegates at the convention, there is no way the delegates are going to back someone who has done so terribly in the primaries.

Up through Super Saturday, Rubio has averaged just over 20 percent of the vote in the contests already held. He has trailed both Ted Cruz and Donald Trump by considerable margins. His vote share on Super Saturday, however, was significantly worse. It is unlikely he will hit 15 percent of the votes cast Saturday when the finals are tabulated.

Saturday’s contests were a mix of primaries and caucuses, across geographic regions. They were closed contests, meaning only registered Republicans could vote, although Maine allowed registration at the time of voting. In the days prior to voting, Rubio received endorsements from several high-profile Republican office-holders.

A closed contest, made up only of Republican voters, ought to have given Rubio a lift. It did not. Moreover, Rubio has tended to do better this year when the voting is open, i.e. independents and Democrats can vote in the Republican contests.

Rubio has generally done worse when the voting is restricted to Republican voters. That is a dangerous precedent for one who hopes to win the nomination at the convention.

Rubio’s campaign has not lacked for resources to compete for Republican votes. His overall campaign spending so far is second only to the amount spent by Jeb Bush. His campaign, and affiliated super PAC, have spent millions more in advertising than either Cruz or Trump.

His campaign is second only to Jeb Bush in another measurement. The ovewhelming majority of his campaign funds have come from maxed-out and high-dollar contributors. Very few of his campaign dollars have some from contributions of $200 or less.

Even his super PAC relies on relatively high-dollar contributions. Although Jeb Bush’s super PAC collected about twice the number of dollars, Rubio’s super PAC actually has more $1 million contributions than Bush.

The weakest theory about Marco Rubio, however, doesn’t involve questions of how his campaign has unfolded. The raison d’etre of his entire candidacy seems suspect. His supporters seem more enthralled with the idea of whom Rubio could be, rather than anything he is doing or has done in particular.

Rubio is young, gives a good speech and is Hispanic. He has a good biography. He was generally popular with voters in favorablity polls. (That favorability rating has taken a considerable hit lately, as it does for any mortal who is campaigning for office.) He can speak Spanish.

Rubio is supposed to represent a “new generation” of Republicans. In most state contests, however, Cruz has done better with young voters than Rubio. The actual new generation of Republicans aren’t flocking to Rubio, based on actual voting results.

Many of his supporters believe he has the best chance of beating Hillary Clinton. This entire premise, by the way, is based on several polls showing him running two or three points better than other Republican candidates in a hypothetical match-up that is still months away. Even assuming those are accurate, that’s a margin-of-error edge.

It is certainly not the kind of ovewhelming advantage that necessitates potentially blowing up the Republican nominating process.

Rubio’s existential problem is not who he is, but who he has been. Even putting the most charitable spin on the Gang of Eight immigration reform bill, Rubio’s involvement certainly displayed questionable judgement. Aligning with Sen. Chuck Schumer on anything with major societal consequences is going to be a difficult sell in a Republican primary.

His ferocious attacks on Donald Trump over the past few weeks have been effective, but only because Trump has overreacted to them. The attacks have certainly diminished Rubio in the eyes of voters. He devolved into personal insults as easily as Trump does. Trying to out-Trump Trump is not a calling card for the Presidency.

Contrast Rubio’s attacks on Trump with those of Ted Cruz, which were based primarily on substance, rather than insults. No one will ever know which were more effective. Cruz, however, has been able to still compete with Trump for votes. Rubio, at least to this point, has not.

The final theory sustaining the Rubio campaign is that he can win Florida and block Trump from its rich haul of delegates. Is this even true, though? The most recent polls of Florida show Rubio losing badly to Trump in his home state.

No doubt, these polls probably overstate Trump’s support in Florida. The race will inevitably tighten before March 15th. It is important to note, however, that no poll ever showed Cruz losing his home state to Texas. Even when Cruz finished a disappointing third in South Carolina and Nevada, he still led Trump in his home state.

After the failures of the Rubio campaign over the past week, is it really very likely that he will reverse course in Florida and surge to victory on the 15th? Based on current polling, it would be an incredible upset win.

That theory looks shakiest of all.