I visited with some friends not too long ago who have some young children. One, who was about 5 years old, asked to play a game with me and I obliged.
It quickly became apparent, however, that he played by an amazing set of rules. When I won a round, he’d quickly declare, “No, no, that was practice.” When he won a round, it was an amazing triumph. It didn’t take long for me to realize that there was no scenario in which I could possibly do well – my rival was in control of deciding which rounds counted and which did not.
This came to mind yesterday listening to Marco Rubio talk to Hugh Hewitt about the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
RUBIO: For me right now, I mean, all eyes are on Florida. We knew it would come to this, not just for me, but for our party – 99 delegates all at once awarded in one state. I believe the winner in Florida will be the Republican nominee, and I believe I’m going to win Florida. So we’re focused here now, and we’re working real hard, and we feel good about the progress we’re making in Florida.HEWITT: So under no circumstances, regardless of how Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii vote later tonight, you are in this race through Florida?RUBIO: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, yeah, absolutely, 100%. I mean, there’s no doubt about that…. I mean, there’s going to be other states in play today, and you know, we have good teams there and we’ve done a little bit, but we’ve really been focused on Florida, because we always knew it would come down to Florida. It always seems to come down to Florida.
And who, pray tell, decided that Marco Rubio’s home state is the only nominating state that actually counts? That would be Marco Rubio.
The trouble, of course, is that the Florida senator sounds an awful lot like the aforementioned 5 year old.
Senator Rubio, didn’t you just lose 22 states in 23 tries? “No, no, that was practice.”
But senator, haven’t you finished third or worse in most of your defeats, including a pair of fourth-place finishes yesterday in which your support failed to reach double digits? “No, no, that was practice.”
Rudy Giuliani tried a similar gambit in 2008, arguing that he could lose everywhere, but it didn’t matter so long as he won Florida. That didn’t work out well – Giuliani ended up losing Florida anyway – but even if the former mayor had done well in his chosen contest, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Candidates don’t have the luxury of declaring, with no coherent rationale, that their victories matter and their defeats are irrelevant.
I have no idea if Rubio is going to win his home state next week, but even if he scrambles to avoid a humiliating defeat, it doesn’t wipe the slate clean. He’ll still trail Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, both in delegates and in victories.
To be sure, Florida is a unique place on the American map, but its presidential primary is not magical, and its results don’t render every other contest irrelevant just to make a struggling candidate feel better.