With Super Tuesday upon us, it’s time for those who don’t want to see Trump as the GOP nominee (which contrary to buzz is still the majority of Republicans) to start making choices. There have been plenty of pieces calling for Kasich and Carson to drop out of the race so that Rubio can get the critical mass necessary to defeat Trump. It’s not going to happen, and it’s not going to be enough.
Carson won’t drop out because his run has never been about probabilities, and he still has some books to sell. Kasich won’t drop out because he continues to have at least a chance of winning Ohio, a big winner-take-all state, which he hopes will finally ignite his campaign as the viable Trump alternative. This run is also Kasich’s swan song as a politician. He has every reason to give it his all.
Sure, it would be great if these men would both take one for the party, but honestly, it may not be enough at this point. According to the current RCP averages Rubio would need to pick up 100% of Carson and Kasich supporters just to tie Trump, and although Rubio does well as a second choice, he certainly would’t get all of them.
A possible near tie with Trump is not enough of a critical mass. We’re fast approaching a very dangerous point in the primary process. Even in this most anti-establishment of years, we GOP voters have a tendency deep in our political DNA to start convincing ourselves to get behind the winner at a certain point, and right now the closest thing we have to a winner is Trump. If we’re to have any chance at all of avoiding a Trump victory or a brokered convention, we need either Cruz or Rubio to pull far ahead and do so quickly, allowing the math to let him rack up the needed 1237 delegates. The way to get there is for Rubio to drop out and endorse Cruz.
Why Rubio? He beat out Cruz for second place in South Carolina and Nevada, and prediction markets currently put Rubio’s chances for the nomination at roughly twice Cruz’s.
Honestly, Rubio is my preferred candidate. While for many in the GOP his “Gang of 8” immigration compromise was a betrayal, I support his stance on that issue and even in the GOP primary I’ve been glad to see him take a slightly more moderate position on immigration than Cruz. I think Rubio’s tax plan is more realistic than Cruz’s flat tax. I’ve given money to the Rubio campaign, the first candidate I’ve sent money to since as a talk-radio-following high school student I sent $20 of saved allowances to the Steve Forbes campaign.
However Rubio is young enough that he could run for president in four, eight or even twenty years (and still be younger than Trump or Hillary is now.) This isn’t his only chance, and while in a normal year he might have swept to victory as a fresh conservative voice, this year he’s been tarred as the “establishment candidate” and may have trouble capturing Cruz or Carson voters, much less pealing away Trump voters. And although Rubio has posted some strong second place finishes, he has yet to beat Trump in any state, and if polls are any indicator he may not win any state on Super Tuesday either, while Cruz is expected to win at least Texas. If Cruz wins one or more states today, and Rubio has still not won a state, it’s hard to see why Cruz would choose to drop out, and with no clear wins in the coming weeks, it may be time for Rubio to consider doing so. Unlike Paul Zummo, I don’t think that Rubio would be an election day disaster, I think he might actually be a more successful general election candidate than Cruz, who will have to deal with the fact that he can be abrasive and he is even further to the right of the average voter than Rubio. But it doesn’t matter how electable Rubio would be in the general election if Trump captures the nomination.
Cruz’s rough edges have ruffled a lot of feathers in the party, but he is someone with a deep knowledge of the Supreme Court, who has both clerked for Chief Justice Rehnquist and argued successfully before the Supreme Court as a lawyer, in an election during which the replacement for one of the leading conservative justices of the last fifty years hangs in the balance. He is a tough and effective debater who will take it to Clinton on stage, and now that he knows Trump is his greatest threat, he’s at last shown himself willing to go after The Donald effectively in the primary. With the current mood of the GOP there’s a risk that Cruz dropping out would leave disaffected anti-establishment Cruz supporters susceptible to falling behind Trump, but even though some establishment Republicans are currently, and self indulgently, threatening to support Trump over Cruz, it seems unlikely that many of those who make their livings from the party and the movement would really go with Trump over a Cruz able to command 40-50% of the party’s support. Cruz has also run the sort of smart, data-driven campaign which will be needed against a post-Obama Democratic Party, even under the shaky command of Clinton.
While Cruz would not have been my first choice, he is a strong and principled conservative. In his closing statement at the last debate, Rubio said, “We have an incredible decision to make, not just about the direction of America but the identity of our party and the conservative movement.” If our party is to remain conservative, Rubio may need to make a very difficult decision himself, to put the good of the party and the movement before his own immediate advancement. With Rubio behind Cruz, perhaps we can finally take back our party and defeat Trump. Making this decision for the greater good of the party and America would only serve to underscore Rubio’s stature, making him more likely to someday sit in the Oval Office than if he’s one of several contenders whose squabbling over the conservative vote leave control of the party to Donald Trump in a year that should have been ours to win.