Florida Senator Marco Rubio is positioned well to pick up support from traditional Republicans in all corners as more “establishment” candidates like Jeb Bush and John Kasich continue to struggle.
Need proof? Just look at how desperate the Bush people have been to undermine the former Governor’s more conservative fellow Floridian. In a campaign of character assassination that has been ongoing since before either of them formally announced they were running, the “JEB! Juggernaut” has been peddling nasty rumors about Rubio’s supposed “zipper problems” to would-be donors and supporters, and as recently as last month were said to be ready to spend as much as $40 million to deflate Rubio’s growing appeal. See, e.g., “Whisper Campaigns and ‘Zipper Problems’: How Jeb Bush’s Allies Tried — and Failed — to Stop Marco Rubio.” (Why does this crowd always resort to crude hit jobs, threats, and power plays? Why not just stand on your own merits and let the voters decide?)
The latest demonstration of the nascent consolidation behind Rubio comes with the endorsement of California Congressman Darrell Issa, best known as the conservative tormentor of the Obama administration from his former perch atop the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Will Issa’s endorsement matter a great deal nationally? Probably not. But if we’re still looking at a fractured field without a clear winner by the end of the primary process, California’s largest-in-the-nation 169 delegate votes up for grabs in its winner-take-all June 7 primary could be what tips the scales. Issa can’t necessarily deliver California for anybody, but if I’m a candidate studying the primary calendar, California is no longer a state that can be taken for granted in a GOP primary. Every little bit of help there could matter.
Meanwhile, Texas Senator Cruz continues to build out a grassroots organization nationwide that is second to none. This very well funded campaign’s willingness to speak boldly and plainly taps into the discontent that has given legs to the Trump and Carson campaigns. If you believe conventional wisdom, Trump’s and Carson’s efforts will begin to fizzle before the first votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses. Conventional wisdom has proven to be wrong time and again when it comes to the mood of the Republican electorate this year, though.
Neither Trump nor Carson are merely the newest incarnations of the Herman Cain-style flash-in-the-pan outsider. Rather, both represent a supreme dissatisfaction with politics as usual that isn’t just going to fade away. Still, though, neither of them have demonstrated any skill in the rough and tumble of this game, and they’re not completely invulnerable, as the latest polling shows. Other candidates, like Carly Fiorina, will gain from any problems the outsider frontrunners have, but Cruz seems poised to capitalize more so than any other.
Today’s Real Clear Politics polling average shows Rubio and Cruz essentially tied at 12 percent nationwide, and still trailing the weakened Trump (28.7%) and Carson (19.7%). Bush is showing 5.3% (My, what a handsome juggernaut you have, Gov. Bush!), and the rest are barely registering.
This is the race we’re going to see in two months. Trump and Carson remain wild cards as their support waxes and wanes, but traditional Republicans and conservatives—who have rejected both the typical “establishment” and the bombast/inexperience of the outsiders—have begun to align behind Cruz and Rubio. Time is quickly running out for the other candidates to change this dynamic.