Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. and Jeb Bush speak at a break during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum, Jan. 14, 2016. 
Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/AP

One way or the other, the GOP will set a new historical precedent

In recent months, endorsements in the race for the Republicans’ presidential nomination have come in brief spurts. One candidate will pick up a couple here, a rival will pick up a couple there, but aside from Jeb Bush’s early advantage, no one GOP candidate has dominated.
This dynamic has changed quite dramatically over the last few days. The Washington Post reported overnight:
Mainstream Republican donors and elected officials flocked to Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) on Monday amid a growing sense that he is the last best chance to prevent Donald Trump from running away with the Republican presidential nomination. […]
“The window is closing, and we need to move now,” said Bobbie Kilberg, a major Republican donor who lined up behind Rubio after former Florida governor Jeb Bush ended his campaign Saturday.
And just how much movement are we talking about? Since Saturday – the day Rubio lost the South Carolina primary by double digits – he’s received endorsements from five senators, a governor, and 11 House members. This doesn’t include backing from former elected officials, party elites, and GOP mega-donors, many which are also scurrying to line up behind the Floridian.
To put this mad dash in perspective, FiveThirtyEight has charted out the endorsement process for the last 10 presidential election cycles, spanning nearly four decades, and as of late yesterday, Rubio’s endorsement totals now bring him in line with where John McCain was at this point in the process during his 2008 race – an election in which the Arizona senator won his party’s nomination.
Of course, at this point in 2008, McCain had already won two primaries and was the obvious frontrunner in his party. He started picking up endorsements as part of a bandwagon effect – McCain was all but certain to prevail in the nominating process, so party officials overcame their skepticism. They had no real choice.
This year, it’s an entirely different dynamic: The more Rubio loses primary elections, the more members of the GOP establishment rally behind him. It’s less of a bandwagon and more of a panic – Republican elites aren’t at all comfortable with their frontrunner, so they’re belatedly trying to manufacture a new one.
And who knows, maybe that’ll work. Maybe the GOP establishment, effectively speaking with one voice, will command Republican voters to support Marco Rubio, and GOP voters will do as they’re told. You’ve heard the cliche, “Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line”? It exists for a reason.
The party has decided on their nominee; it’s entirely possible the party’s voters will follow instructions as they always have before. But whether they do or not, we’re going to see a striking break with history this year.
It is undeniably true that no Republican who started off the nominating process with wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina has ever lost the nomination. Donald Trump, love him or hate him, won the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries. In fact, he did so easily.
It is also undeniably true that no Republican who lost each of the first three contests has ever come back to win the nomination. Marco Rubio lost Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. In two of the three, he lost by double digits. In one of the three, he came in fifth place.
And it is also undeniably true that in the modern primary era, no Republican with the party establishment’s backing has ever lost the nomination. The candidate with the most endorsements at this stage in the process has always prevailed.
Something’s gotta give.