Marco: Will He Drop or Won’t He?

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

This is not the narrative Marco Rubio anticipated he’d hear in the run-up to what was hoped would be one of the most significant moments in his young political career: having Florida GOP voters endorse their junior Senator as the next President of the United States. Instead, the political noise for him to sacrifice his campaign and allow a strategic conservative consolidation against front-runner Donald Trump has grown increasingly shrill.

It could be expected that opponents and pundits would call for him to drop or to throw in with another candidate. But word is that Rubio backers, donors, and even campaign insiders are also concerned about his survivability:

Many Rubio backers say they still believe Trump would be a political disaster but are worried that the freshman senator is not doing enough to make an effective case against the billionaire. Even with a strong win Sunday in Puerto Rico, Rubio has lost 18 of 20 nominating contest so far, and he faces grim odds in many of the states to come.

And CNN is reporting today an internal debate within the campaign over his remaining in the race ahead of Florida’s March 15 winner-take-all primary. The campaign spokesperson has denied any internal rift, but CNN re-confirmed the report with their source:

A battle is being waged within Florida Sen. Marco Rubio‘s campaign about whether he should even remain in the Republican presidential race ahead of his home state primary on March 15, sources say. …

Publicly, the campaign is maintaining they are still a contender in this race… But privately, the campaign is having a debate about whether he should remain in the mix — even for his home state of Florida’s primary.

Despite recent polls indicating a Rubio surge of sorts against Trump, even a 2-1 lead among early voters identified Monday in a Monmouth poll isn’t buoying hopes. And a hoped for Jeb Bush endorsement that could enhance his chances will not appear in time to help in Idaho, Michigan, Mississipi, and Hawaii, and may not happen at all:

One potential x-factor in the Florida contest is the looming possibility of an endorsement from once-rival Jeb Bush. But Rubio and Bush, the former Florida governor, have spoken three times since Bush dropped out of the 2016 last month and the Rubio campaign is not expecting an endorsement.

Even insiders concede Rubio is facing a political Hobson’s choice. If he stays in until Florida and is defeated – even a close second is, well, second – he hurts his political future, which by any measure is still very bright:

“He doesn’t want to get killed in his home state,” one source familiar with the discussions said, noting “a poor showing would be a risk and hurt his political future.”

It must be remembered that Rubio gave up his U.S. Senate seat to run for President. His firewall was Nevada, in which he finished well out of first and barely second ahead of Ted Cruz. He’s won only Minnesota and Puerto Rico, and his delegate count remains anemic. Until now, he has been all in. But will he remain so, especially with low expectations for today’s four-state superfecta?

As I noted last December:

There’s a chance the promising primary campaign of Marco Rubio and his “New American Century” may sputter before it ever ignites.

[…]

If Rubio survives Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina with third or fourth place finishes in all, the pressure for Rubio to plant a flag with a Nevada win increases, especially staring down Super Tuesday two weeks later. Should he finish a poor second or third to Trump and/or Cruz his campaign may be finished. However, if he beats expectations and posts a Silver State victory (and no margin will be too small) he can still make the Super Tuesday case to supporters and donors alike.

We’ll know tonight whether he’ll get to state his Florida case at all.

Clint Cline is the president of Design4, a national media and messaging firm based in Florida.