Dan McLaughlin, at RedState, has a very convincing look at how Marco Rubio waits out Ted Cruz’s early wins. As we move in the calendar, we get to more moderate states, and Rubio’s odds go up.
What we have to consider, however, is voter psychology. Voters get tired, they want to go with a winner, and the “inevitability” factor helps any candidate who racks up early wins. If Cruz wins Iowa, South Carolina, and then has big wins in the SEC primaries — primaries that are mostly proportional and a commanding Cruz performance could boost him even with proportionality — Cruz would begin to look more inevitable and the drumbeat of consolidation and Vice Presidential deal making would begin.
Relatedly, this Politico story on New Hampshire is a must read if only because Rubio could potentially score an early win there. Rubio has continued to sustain himself there. Despite steady press coverage of Chris Christie surging there, it is worth noting that Christie has largely camped out in New Hampshire and Rubio, who is not a prolific visitor to New Hampshire, is still doing better and still going up in the polls.
Rubio, it should be noted, has beaten Chris Christie in four of the last five polls in New Hampshire, but you’d never know it from press coverage. Then again, since his election in New Jersey, Chris Christie has always gotten disproportionate media coverage with the media cheering on a Christie run for the Presidency going back to his very first election.
Rubio, Bush, Kasich, and Christie are all ganging up on each other there. Cruz is largely leaving them to New Hampshire while he looks ahead to South Carolina, the SEC primary, and even, perhaps surprisingly, Florida and Nevada. Both of those states should be prime Rubio ground.
I still think Rubio can pull off a win in New Hampshire.
We’re already seeing consolidation happening in the Congress. Trey Gowdy, Cory Gardner, and Mia Love are leading Republicans toward Rubio. If Kasich, Bush, and Christie got out and rallied to Rubio and then he bounced into Nevada and Florida with a win in Florida and a solid second or first in Nevada, Rubio has a message and destroys Cruz’s inevitability.
Rubio can then legitimately make the claim that the GOP can’t just do well in the South, drive a media narrative (that a media who hates Ted Cruz will gladly push) that the SEC Primary was a stacked deck in favor of Cruz because it included Texas, and build the case to wait.
The longer voters are willing to wait, the longer Rubio has a shot at winning the whole thing. Why? Because as Dan McLaughlin notes, the states that come after Florida trend more moderate. Rubio, building a coalition of establishment types, a good showing of conservatives, and others will start picking up significant steam.
But this all comes back to New Hampshire.
If Rubio fizzles in Iowa, unable to get third there, and then fizzles in New Hampshire, he starts to slow down significantly as voters and the press look to see who did better than Rubio in New Hampshire. If it is Chris Christie, we’re going to hear a lot about him as we head to South Carolina. And because of Christie’s terrible gun views, the south is going to consolidate even more quickly to Ted Cruz. That makes it harder for Rubio to regain any momentum.
Like with Rudy Giuliani, when a candidate says he has a new and novel path to victory that does not include wins in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina and sees prime GOP country coming before Florida ever votes, the burden is on him to prove he has a real path to victory.
If anyone does, it is Marco Rubio. The guy is a natural and he has a team in place that includes Terry Sullivan, who helped Jim DeMint. So there could be a South Carolina surprise there. But he needs to win in New Hampshire for the media to carry any water on his viability. Then Marco Rubio can be the slow moving tortoise to Ted Cruz’s hare. Cruz racks up early conservative Southern states, and Rubio waits and consolidates.