The best hope of the Republican establishment just a week ago, Marco Rubio suddenly faces a path to his party's presidential nomination that could require a brokered national convention. That's according to Rubio's campaign manager, Terry Sullivan, who told The Associated Press that this week's disappointing performance in New Hampshire will extend the Republican nomination fight for another three months, if not longer. It's a worst-case scenario for Rubio and many Republican officials alike who hoped to avoid a prolonged and painful nomination fight in 2016.
As results from the New Hampshire primary were still being tallied, Marco Rubio's communications director urged Jeb Bush to drop out of the race in order to prevent Donald Trump's nomination. As Team Rubio sees it, the Republican "establishment" should simply rally behind the Florida senator, and Jeb stubbornly stands in the way.
It's a common refrain from Rubio, but it's also kind of hilarious -- because in this week's high-profile primary, Bush beat Rubio. Though polls showed the senator finishing second, he actually came in fifth. The former governor narrowly edged past him for a fourth-place finish.
In other words, Team Rubio's pitch is, "That guy who just beat us should quit, so it'll be easier for us to do better."
Wouldn't it be just as easy for Team Jeb to say the same thing about Rubio? Maybe the guy who finished fifth and made himself a national punch-line should get out of the way so that the establishment can consolidate around the candidate who finished ahead of him?
New York's Jon Chait noted yesterday, "Before New Hampshire, National Review's Tim Alberta reported that, if Bush finished ahead of Rubio, it might 'prove crippling' to the younger Floridian. That proved prophetic. After Rubio's debate choke, Bush can claim vindication that Rubio is not up to the challenge of a presidential campaign, let alone the presidency."
The senator, obviously, doesn't quite see the race this way. But how does Rubio intend to succeed? The Associated Press published a piece this morning that I had to triple check to make sure it wasn't intended as satire.
On a flight from New Hampshire to South Carolina yesterday, Rubio's campaign manager sincerely argued, "We very easily could be looking at May -- or the convention. I would be surprised if it's not May or the convention."
There was an informal parlor game among many political observers in January as we looked at the nominating calendar and asked an awkward question: where does Rubio win? The Republican senator was well positioned to compete in a variety of caucuses and primaries, but where exactly does Rubio finish first -- the sort of thing nominees usually do?
It was difficult to answer because there were no obvious states in which Rubio appeared likely to succeed. It was easy to imagine him competitive in most states, but harder to imagine him actually winning.
With the first two contests over, and Rubio finishing third and fifth, respectively -- a far worse showing than any future nominee in either party, ever -- the senator's campaign is opening the door to an alternative scenario. Maybe, Team Rubio believes, one can be the victor without victories. Perhaps the senator won't need wins to win.
The AP article added, "The public embrace of a possible brokered convention marks a sharp shift in rhetoric from Rubio's top adviser that could be designed to raise alarm bells among Republican officials."
Ya think? Unless Rubio's campaign manager was badly misquoted, or this is the clumsiest approach to lowering expectations in recent memory, he seems to believe his candidate is going to keep losing, perhaps for months.
It's not exactly the sort of thing that inspires confidence.