Marco Rubio should drop out of the White House race and become Donald Trump’s vice presidential nominee.
Rubio devotees; hear me out. First, some facts:
- Every Republican candidate who has been the frontrunner for as long as Trump has gone on to win the nomination.
- Never has a Republican candidate who has lost both Iowa and New Hampshire become the nominee.
- Trump won New Hampshire convincingly. New Hampshire has a 2-1 lead over Iowa when it comes to predicting the Republican nominee.
- Trump came second in Iowa, yet won more votes than any previous winner of that caucus.
The last point is worth delving into a little. Trump's popularity is lowest among voters who consider 'values' to be the most important issue (as opposed to 'jobs', 'economy' or 'national security'). In Iowa, a majority of Republican caucus-goers identify as ‘evangelical Christian’, and 40% consider themselves ‘very conservative’. Given Trump’s relatively weak religious and/or conservative credentials, and his oft maligned lack of ‘ground game’ in Iowa, where retail politics is at a premium, gaining the second highest vote count in Iowa caucus history is not a terrible result.
In the days after the Iowa caucus, pundits and media piled on Trump to talk down his chances of winning the nomination. This was partly Trump’s own doing. The candidate failed to frame his real chances of winning Iowa, and lost some momentum when the result did not reflect the inflated expectation. The reverse was true for Rubio, even though he came in third.
Yet that criticism was largely catharsis masquerading as analysis. It was the yearning of failed pundits for vindication and an emotional purge by those desperate to see Trump falter. In other words, the importance of the Iowa result was massively overstated. The predictions of Trump’s imminent demise did not reflect reality.
Enter Rubio: a young, articulate, first-term Senator from a minority background who shows great promise. He has a compelling personal story of overcoming adversity to reach public office. He looks, sounds, and behaves like someone who might have succeeded as president after eight years of George W. Bush.
That’s why he won’t win the nomination. Rubio is the Republican Obama, at a time when GOP voters can’t think of anything worse. He’s clearly a tremendous political talent and the future of the Republican party. But the future is not the present.
Now is not Rubio’s time, and timing is everything. Despite the media hysteria after Iowa, Rubio had a very poor period between Iowa and New Hampshire. At the GOP debate, Chris Christie had Rubio totally on the ropes, reducing him to repetitive robotics. Earlier on, Rick Santorum could not think of a single accomplishment of the candidate he was endorsing. Rubio's opponents used that footage to devastating effect.
Exit polls are showing a thumping victory in New Hampshire for Trump. If they are reflected in the final count, Trump will sweep up half of all the delegates. This is because in New Hampshire any delegates awarded to candidates who gain less than 10% of the primary vote are redistributed proportionally to the remaining candidates (and yes, at the time of writing a vote for Jeb Bush looks like a vote for Trump).
Trump is now a winner again and heading into primary states that favour him and Ted Cruz. Rubio is unlikely to be competitive in many of these early southern bastions, and he will be a long way behind in the delegate count before any chance of clawing back ground presents itself. Even if other establishment candidates drop out, Rubio has little chance of staging a serious comeback.
Yet, if Rubio cuts a deal now, he might have a chance to become Trump’s vice presidential nominee. If the opportunity presented, Trump would surely jump at it; the nomination would be sewn up against Cruz, and a Trump–Rubio ticket would be well positioned for the election.
To state the obvious, Trump and Rubio are everything the other is not. The two could gain a great deal from other, both in terms of campaigning and in being able to govern effectively.
Most importantly for Rubio, after four or eight years serving as the US vice president, never again would the accusation be levelled that he doesn’t have the experience to be president.
Rubio’s political career has not yet peaked. This is an opportunity for him to occupy the second-highest office in the most powerful nation on Earth; and there is every possibility he could one day take the step up.
The alternative for Rubio is a grinding, expensive war of attrition and probable defeat; at which point Trump (and certainly Cruz) would have no reason to want him on the ticket. .
It's possible there may already be an understanding. Trump and Rubio have gone out of their way to avoid criticising one another during the campaign; each picking their fights with others in the race. After the last debate journalists lined up to give Trump a free kick at Rubio which Trump pointedly refused to take. While that might just be realpolitik campaigning at work, it could be Trump has already made his vice-presidential pick.
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