Marco Rubio Wins the Puerto Rico Primary, But He and the GOP Establishment Are Still Doomed

Rubio’s sparkle has been fading. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

While residents of Puerto Rico aren’t allowed to vote in presidential elections, they are allowed to help select the nominees, and with most of Sunday’s primary results in, Republicans on the island have overwhelming chosen Marco Rubio as their candidate, according to Decision Desk HQ and ABC News. He has even, so far, won more than 70 percent of the vote, meaning he’s met the 50 percent threshold to keep all of Puerto Rico’s 23 delegates for himself. Thus, Rubio gets to give his second victory speech that corresponds to an actual victory, though the win is unlikely to make much of a difference, especially after his dismal performance in Saturday’s contests. Just how badly did those go? The New Yorker’s John Cassidy has the tally:

In Kansas, Rubio had received endorsements from Republican Governor Sam Brownback and Bob Dole, the state’s longtime senator and the Republican Presidential candidate in 1996. The support didn’t do Rubio any good. The result in Maine, which is known as one of the few remaining holdouts of moderate Republicanism, was equally disappointing for him. After Jeb Bush dropped out of the race, Rubio must have expected to pick up some of his votes. But to the extent that anybody benefited from Bush’s departure, it appears to have been John Kasich, who came third. In addition, the results in Kentucky and Louisiana, where Rubio got sixteen per cent and eleven per cent of the vote respectively, confirmed his failure to make inroads in the South.

But one supposedly good sign from Rubio’s landslide win in Puerto Rico is that Florida, whose winner-take-all GOP primary is on March 15, has the largest population of Puerto Ricans in the country. So, theoretically, the demographics mean good future news for Rubio — not that he needs any convincing. Offering yet another optimistic spin on losing on Saturday, Rubio insisted that, “This map only gets better for us as we move forward in some of the other states.” Unless it doesn’t. The American Conservative’s Noah Millman offers a helpful reminder:

Florida has been polled six times this year. Rubio has never led. In the most recent February polls, he has trailed Trump by between 15 and 20 points. Florida was also polled 21 times in 2015. Rubio never led in any of those polls either. Rubio is significantly less-popular in his home state that Cruz is in his, or Kasich is in his — or, I’d venture, than Trump is in his. Rubio’s best chance of winning his home state is that Cruz’s efforts to out-hustle him boost the Texan’s standing at the expense of Trump rather than Rubio, and enable the Florida Senator to win a close three-way race. Otherwise, he’s probably toast.

Millman goes on to point out that Rubio’s new role in the race is to play the unwitting spoiler to any effort to beat Trump, since the best way he could now help that crusade is by dropping out and allowing his voters to shift to other non-Trump candidates and maybe turn the delegate tide. Fat chance of that happening, argues The Week’s James Poulos:

For all his talent and good intentions, Rubio proved that there’s something much worse in this populist season than being born on third and thinking you just hit a triple. However subliminal, his sense of upwardly mobile entitlement was weirdly off-putting and perversely reminiscent of the entitled yes-kid who thinks he should get what he wants because he knows exactly how to give his teachers and school administrators exactly what they want. Rather than embodying the 20th-century Republican story of increase earned through luck and pluck, he became an avatar of the 21st-century striver whose stock in trade is his special snowflakehood. […]

Nevertheless, a hard core of party bigs still seem convinced he’s essential to the GOP’s future. And left to his devices, Rubio will not drop out, before or after Florida. He will become a pawn in a grand yet tawdry game of thrones at the convention — and in so doing, it’s safe to say, put the GOP at far greater peril of being split to pieces than anything Trump and Cruz can manage together. Rubio is the face of a wing of the party that acts like the future but is really yesterday’s news. And thinks it’s full of winners but, so many times already, has decisively lost.

But the Republican Establishment could still push Rubio out, right? Not if it requires them to acknowledge some fundamental realities they have shown zero interest in accepting thus far. Here’s Millman again:

[T]he GOP establishment doesn’t really want to stop Trump. What they want is to back the candidate of their choosing, someone they know will be reliable on the issues that matter most to them, and who they also believe they can sell. They have made excuses at every twist and turn of this campaign in terms of how different things would have been if just one little thing had gone differently — and bewailed the good electoral fortune showered on candidates whom they cannot abide. But they cannot reconcile themselves to the fact that it’s not bad luck. The primary electorate really, really doesn’t want to vote for someone the party leadership has blessed. Frankly, they’d prefer someone completely unacceptable to that leadership.

After all, those unacceptable, uncontrollable, unaccountable candidates — Trump and Cruz — have between them won an outright majority of the vote, and sometimes an overwhelming majority, in every single primary and caucus so far, save two: New Hampshire and Vermont. […]

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there is no anti-Trump majority to consolidate. There is an anti-establishment majority. And the only question has been which candidate, if any, will consolidate it.

So as the race currently stands, Rubio may think of himself as the anti-Trumpiest candidate in the GOP field, and may still believe he represents the party’s best hope to defeat both Donald and Hillary Clinton, but by electing to stay in the race, even just through Florida, Rubio may be casting his and all his supporters’ votes for Trump.

Rubio Wins Puerto Rico, But Does It Even Matter?