My Cruz friends are very insistent that the Rubio supporters need to cut bait now and move toward Cruz. I think they are almost right, but I think for the next ten days Rubio still has a better shot at the Republican nomination than Bernie Sanders has of the Democratic nomination.
Bernie Sanders has to deal with the Democrat super delegate problem. The super delegates have outsized influence on the Democratic Party nomination process and many of them are loyal to Clinton. Likewise, Bernie Sanders has to convince a group of black and hispanic mothers that a Jewish Socialist from New York who lives in Vermont and until recently wasn’t even a Democrat is going to be better for them than Hillary Clinton. Bernie Sanders does not look like the Democrats on the road ahead, nor does he sound like them.
It is still far more likely that Clinton is the Democrats’ nominee.
On the Republican side, the road is far tougher for Rubio today given his loss in New Hampshire. Chris Christie seriously damaged Rubio. Likewise, because of what happened in New Hampshire, Ted Cruz only has to deal with Donald Trump, while Marco Rubio has to deal with Jeb Bush and John Kasich. Rubio has many more obstacles in his path than Ted Cruz.
But Rubio also has the potential for a better showing in South Carolina than Jeb Bush and John Kasich. Kasich did so well in New Hampshire because Kasich camped out in New Hampshire for about 77 days. Kasich though, underperformed Jon Huntsman.
Bush still has high negatives and has never been able to throw Rubio off his game like Christie did. Likewise, Rubio has the opportunity to prove he is adaptable and flexible, now anticipating the lines of attack that will come his way. Headed to South Carolina, Rubio still has more delegates in the race for the nomination than Bush and tied Jeb Bush in delegates in New Hampshire.
Rubio also has the support of Trey Gowdy and Tim Scott in South Carolina, which provides him inroads among coastal, establishment Republicans and the upstate business Republicans. Gowdy and Scott can open doors to Rubio giving him access to reassure donors.
If Rubio cannot over perform in South Carolina in ten days, he probably is fatally wounded. But he will be playing on far more favorable ground. There is plenty of evidence that Rubio had momentum until Saturday’s debate in New Hampshire. He is going to have to reclaim some momentum on Saturday in Greenville, SC at the CBS debate. Rubio has proven himself adept at this before. He has the opportunity in South Carolina to see the other candidates again go after Ted Cruz and Kasich and Bush go after each other.
I think if Rubio has a poor showing in South Carolina, he is probably toast. But Rubio has an advantage in South Carolina. The media overbuilt his expectations leaving Iowa. He was the man to beat in New Hampshire and got his butt kicked. He does not have that now in South Carolina. The pressure is not there and as the race swings to the SEC, more eyes will be on Cruz than Rubio. Additionally, between Kasich, Bush, and Rubio, Rubio has the far more dynamic personality. Between Cruz and Trump, the Trump show tends to dominate in the press coverage. Rubio can potentially use that to his advantage.
Rubio is almost off the path to any victory. But right now I still think he has a better shot at the Republican nomination than Bernie Sanders does of the Democratic nomination. If he cannot compete in ten days though, his supporters are going to have to decide: Trump or Cruz.