There’s a presidential candidate not named Bernie Sanders who should also be thrilled at the eroded credibility of the polling industry after Tuesday night’s Michigan primary. That would be Marco Rubio. But it’s only indirectly related to his own dismal fourth-place finish in Michigan. As he struggles to catch up to Donald Trump and fend off Ted Cruz in his own state during the next week, the polls could well become a sort of mocking Greek chorus to his happy-talk, contradicting his efforts to rev up his troops and regain the mojo that once made him the smart-money candidate for the GOP nomination and indeed the presidency. Better to have a ready-made reason for ignoring them all: “Just look at what happened to Hillary Clinton in Michigan.”
Indeed, the first batch of final-week polls for Florida undermine whatever cheer Rubio harvested from a Monmouth survey on Monday showing him within single digits of Trump. The four polls released since then show Trump leading by margins ranging from 12 to 23 points, with Cruz not far behind Rubio. And these surveys were taken before yesterday, when Rubio had another very bad day in actual elections. He failed to win a single delegate in Michigan, Mississippi, or Idaho, and as of this writing he’s hoping to snag one unallocated delegate in Hawaii after provisional ballots are counted (he finished a poor third there after being the only candidate to run ads).
With no hope of anything like momentum, and with Cruz refusing to play the no-enemies-other-than-Trump game, his prospects for survival next Tuesday depend on a combination of home-state (and for the large Cuban-American community in south Florida, hometown and ethnic) pride and the tens of millions of dollars in anti-Trump advertising flooding Florida airwaves. In the short ten days since his second-place finish in the Nevada caucuses, Rubio has essentially been reduced from a promising national candidate methodically knocking out his Establishment-track rivals and enjoying endless media hype to a favorite-son wannabe, praying for electoral home cooking and then a contested convention. Even then, the only way he’s going to be the nominee is for his powerful friends to give him what voters have largely denied. It’s unclear to me why even a bought and bossed convention would pick Rubio instead of the less-damaged Paul Ryan or some other potential game-changer. As John McCain’s 2008 campaign manager Steve Schmidt told MSNBC viewers last night, Young Marco’s path to the nomination is via “a fantastical, alternate reality vision of the universe.” But even that distant prospect begins in the next week in the Sunshine State, where Rubio must now understand how Charlie Crist felt as Rubio was beating him in 2010: like yesterday’s news.
Perhaps the best indication of how far he has fallen came just as I was writing this piece, from Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, a textbook neoconservative long assumed to be in Rubio’s corner, particularly if Jeb Bush folded. Rubin recommended that Rubio fold his campaign right now, today, and endorse Ted Cruz in hopes that the Texan will make him his running mate if he somehow beats Trump. It may indeed be time for Rubio to throw up his hands, and then maybe throw in the towel.