He might have only come in third in Iowa, but Marco Rubio’s chances at being the Republican nominee are better than ever.
The Iowa Caucuses have come and gone and they delivered their usual round of great pieces of political Americana and generally interesting results. On the Democratic side Bernie Sanders was able to fight Hillary Clinton to a near draw while on the GOP side Donald Trump came in second to Ted Cruz with Marco Rubio in a close second.
The media coverage of the Iowa results has been pretty positive for Rubio however. Indeed it’s been so positive that some political writers have been complaining that it really doesn’t make much sense at all, and that Trump’s second place showing was “legitimately impressive” as Vox’s Matt Yglesias put it.
The answer to skeptics’ claim that Rubio faired poorly by coming in third is pretty clear if you look at what’s happened in the two days since Iowa. First of all a number of candidates including Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Rand Paul have dropped out, winnowing the GOP field down to 9 candidates and Jim Gilmore, who isn’t even bothering to campaign. Since the whole nomination process works by winnowing out candidates till only one is left, anytime you survive a round of winnowing is usually a victory of sorts.
But where Rubio’s real strength lies is in the crucial support of Republican Party actors he’s pick up since Iowa. As I write this two fellow Republican senators and five GOP members of the House have endorsed him, and these are big catches in more ways than one. Senator Pat Toomey represents purple state Pennsylvania and is up for election this year signaling support from Rubio for GOP actors focused on electability in November. Senator Tim Scott represents South Carolina and as a statewide elected official probably has considerable political networks and clout to add to Team Rubio. And Representative Matt Salmon co-founded the House Freedom caucus showing Rubio has support among rightwing Tea Party types as well. In other words Rubio is continuing to build a broad based campaign with support from a number of different important factions inside the Republican Party, something polling leader Donald Trump just simply isn’t doing.
Of course none of this guarantees that Rubio will win every state between now and the Republican convention in Cleveland. And while it’s unlikely another candidate could still stage an amazing comeback, stranger things have happened in politics. But as Jonathan Bernstein points out it does mean Rubio is picking up access to precious resources that will help him win primaries as well as survive any setbacks:
New endorsements mean new resources, which translate into votes. This means money but also volunteer time and positive stories in the conservative and mainstream press. The support gives him leeway, too. If Rubio falls short in New Hampshire and even South Carolina, he’ll likely keep going. Candidates with less party support will not. If it’s true that any candidate can surge at any time, then simply sticking around is a real plus.
Meanwhile since nominations contests are zero sum, Rubio’s good fortune is bad news for everyone else, especially his mainstream conservative opponents like Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie. Their campaign will find donors losing interest, more negative news stories, volunteers drifting away, and campaign staff spending more time polishing their resumes and getting drunk than putting in late night hours for something that increasingly looks like a doomed effort.
That still leaves Ted Cruz and Donald Trump of course. But if the Republican Party consolidates support around Rubio, then they don’t really stand much of chance anyway.
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