Shortly before tonight’s 12th Republican debate in Miami, right-wing opinion-leader Erick Erickson reported a “rumor” that a deal had been cut between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio whereby Cruz’s super-pac would take down its anti-Rubio ads in Florida and then, win or lose on March 15, Rubio would join Cruz in the second slot of a “unity ticket.” In other words, Rubio throwing in the towel is the price Cruz demanded for giving the Floridian a chance to redeem himself in his home state. It’s just a rumor — one that Rubio has dismissed as “House of Cards stuff” — but the debate sure did nothing to undermine its credibility.
While most of the attention paid to the debate focused naturally on the relatively civil exchanges between Donald Trump and his two Cuban-American rivals, it shouldn’t be forgotten that not a single negative word was exchanged between Cruz, Kasich, and Rubio. That makes little sense other than in the context of a tacit anti-Trump alliance in which Cruz (who’s been a real problem for Rubio in Florida) and Rubio have reached some accommodation, and neither feels particularly threatened by Kasich.
Another clue to the inner dynamics is the scant support given to the idea that a contested convention might unhorse Donald Trump if he’s near to a majority going into Cleveland. RNC chairman Reince Priebus did a pointed unity pitch promising maximum party support for the voters’ ultimate choice before the debate even started. Cruz attacked the idea of party elites determining the nominee at the convention, and Trump simply said the candidate with the most delegates should be nominated. Rubio, whose only path to the nomination for some time now has been a contested convention, wasn’t asked and didn’t say a word about the endgame. Kasich is still pretending he can win the whole thing in the primaries.
So if Erickson’s right, then in just a few days we could have a Cruz-Rubio combination that would push Kasich aside and go mano-a-mano with Trump, either flourishing or expiring once we find out whether Trump can maintain his standing in the Northeastern states where he would currently beat Cruz or Kasich alone or in tandem. Everyone involved knows that had the contest become even more toxic than it was in the last debate, the GOP would have flown apart and some sort of independent Trump or anti-Trump splinter candidacy would have been inevitable. So put a hold on those reservations to watch a War of the Worlds in Cleveland, folks. It looks like the contest will probably be wrapped up earlier.