Marco Rubio’s “3-2-1” strategy is obviously dead. The Florida senator expected to finish third in Iowa, second in New Hampshire, and first in South Carolina, leaving him well positioned for the road ahead. Instead, he put together a “3-5-2” track record, losing South Carolina by double digits. Making matters much worse, Nevada was seen as Rubio’s best chance for an early victory, and he lost last night by 22 points.
When was the last time a Republican presidential candidate lost each of the first four nominating contests and then bounced back to win the nomination? It’s never happened. In fact, in GOP politics, it’s never come close to happening.
But in Democratic politics, it’s a slightly different story. The Washington Post’s Philip Bump highlights an observation that’s starting to make the rounds: Bill Clinton went 0-for-4 in 1992.
Clinton lost and lost and lost, over and over. He was similarly in a splintered field, which took a long time to work itself out… [I]f you’re a Rubio fan, that’s the most consolation I can offer you. Others have had rough starts and won, too!Once out of the last eight contested nominations.
But before pro-Rubio pundits start shouting about how the senator can follow Bill Clinton’s model of success, it’s worth noting one very important problem with the comparison.
To be sure, the broader observation is completely accurate. Clinton came up short in each of the first four nominating contests, before eventually going on a winning streak, securing the nomination, and becoming president. But it’s the nature of those four losses that matters.
The first 1992 contest was, of course, the Iowa caucuses, which barely existed that year – Iowa’s own Tom Harkin was running that year, and no one saw the point of taking on a popular Iowa Democrat in his own state. Naturally, Harkin won easily.
It was followed by the New Hampshire primary, which Massachusetts’ Paul Tsongas won.
Because the current calendar did not yet exist, the third contest was the Maine caucuses, which California’s Jerry Brown won, which was followed by the South Dakota primary, which Nebraska’s Bob Kerrey won.
Notice what these four contests have in common? They were each won by a different Democrat. After four nominating contests in 1992, there were four Dems with one win each, and there was no clear frontrunner. By the time Clinton started doing well, he climbed to the front of a divided pack.
The 2016 Republican race is in no way similar. In fact, it’s largely the opposite, with one candidate, Donald Trump, winning three of the first four races by wide margins.
Senator Rubio, we know Bill Clinton. You’re no Bill Clinton.