Four years ago I was invited to sit in on a Rick Santorum campaign conference call that included staffers from around the country.
The Pennsylvania presidential primary was approaching and Santorum’s candidacy had just been kneecapped in Wisconsin, thanks in no small part to US Representative Paul Ryan. In fact, Ryan’s delivery of America’s Dairyland to Mitt Romney doubtlessly played a major role in the congressman being asked to join the ticket later that summer.
Santorum should’ve welcomed the Keystone State’s presidential primary: it was his home state and the place that had elected him twice to the US Senate. Unfortunately it was also the same state that had turned him out of office by a big margin in the 2006 midterm debacle for the GOP- the year Republicans lost both houses of Congress.
Romney, anxious to put away his last significant opponent (though Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul remained in the race, though not as serious rivals by this juncture), had cranked up the heat in Pennsylvania.
Santorum trailed the former Massachusetts governor there and it looked like the former senator was looking at a humiliating defeat, one that would have ended his 2012 candidacy and perhaps any hope of making another bid in 2016.
But there was more to it than that: Santorum was broke.
He had gambled on a win in Wisconsin, where he once enjoyed a double digit over the GOP presidential frontrunner, to propel him into a big homecoming win in Pennsylvania.
The gamble did not pay off and Santorum only had his name, which was being tarnished during commercial breaks and direct mailers via Romney Super PAC.
With great reluctance, Santorum was informing his national organization that he was going to scuttle his candidacy in advance of Pennsylvania to avoid having his former constituents do it for him.
Regardless of how things played out in 2016, ending his campaign prior to Pennsylvania was the smart play. Team Romney was eager to dance on the grave of the man who damned near knocked him out in Michigan. Santorum’s suspension of candidacy effectively ended the nomination fight in 2012.
With the Florida primary on Tuesday, US Senator Marco Rubio finds himself in a similar spot.
The results of this past Tuesday were disastrous for Rubio. Despite having a robocall from Romney going out in the 2012 nominee’s old home state of Michigan, Rubio finished in fourth place with 9.3% of the vote and no delegates. In all fairness, that flop is just as telling about Romney’s standing as it is Rubio’s.
And the one primary he has won this campaign isn’t even a state. (No, I’m not talking about Minnesota; that was a caucus.)
Rubio is now facing long odds in the state that he represents in the US Senate.
Rubio is trailing Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump by insurmountable margins less than a week before the “winner take all” primary.
While Rubio will likely run second there, finishing number two in Florida means you essentially get number two.
If this system was designed/rigged to benefit Jeb Bush’s candidacy, then the RPoF gets what it deserves: Trump soaking in the glory of beating the Republican establishment in one of their strongholds.
This is the same state that deliberately messed up the presidential primary calendar four years ago to help Romney and then arrogantly ignored the RNC’s rules regarding proportional allocation of delegates.
I hope Trump dedicates his win to ex-FL GOP Chairman Jim Greer on live television.
Trump will likely win the state that is his second home regardless of Rubio remaining an active candidate.
However like Santorum in 2012, Rubio should weigh the decision with an eye on the future. His future.
If he loses to Trump in his home state, that indignity will follow him like a black cloud the rest of his days. It’d be a career killer.
Rubio’s departure from the race isn’t about Florida, though if by chance Ted Cruz did carry the state it would drive a stake through the heart of Trump’s inevitability.
Rubio’s departure is about Ohio and all of the other states where Kasich and Cruz’s numbers would immediately rise while Trump’s remain static.
Kasich locks up Ohio with Rubio out of the race and Cruz likely takes North Carolina and Missouri, thus balancing off Trump’s win in Florida. Otherwise, there’s a chance Trump would win the two big prizes next Tuesday, setting off a stampede of politicos to Trump Tower.
Deprived of a divided field that has allowed him to grab pluralities, Trump would find the campaign a lot more challenging. It would also put greater pressure on him in the remaining debates.
Rubio has had many chances to turn his candidacy around. He can’t blame so-called “dirty tricks” by Cruz for his position. Rubio’s colleague from Texas wasn’t responsible for Rubio’s role in the Gang of Eight immigration legislation, being unprepared for the New Hampshire presidential debate, or missing so many votes in the senate.
For the good of whatever political career he hopes to have, for the good of the Republican Party, and for the good of the country, Rubio needs to end his candidacy before Thursday evening.
If Marco bails, Donald fails.