Probably not, which is why this is an excellent demonstration of Rubio’s problem, and the problem the GOP is facing as the actual voting approaches. While everyone waits for the voters to finally figure out that they ought to be supporting Rubio, the only candidate who at the moment looks like he might be able to defeat Donald Trump is Ted Cruz. From the perspective of the party’s fortunes in the general election, that would be sort of like being cured of your electoral syphilis by contracting gonorrhea.
On one hand, it’s understandable that the Rubio campaign would try to make a big deal out of Gowdy’s support, since Republican politicians have been stingy with endorsements this year and Gowdy is well-liked among his colleagues on Capitol Hill. But when Trump dismissed the endorsement by saying that Gowdy’s Benghazi hearings were “a total disaster,” you could almost hear Republican voters nodding in agreement. The special committee was just one more iteration of the pattern that has Republican voters so disgusted with their Washington leadership: touted as the vehicle to bring down Hillary Clinton, it ended up backfiring and doing nothing but make Republicans look foolish. So once again, Capitol Hill Republicans overpromised and showed their constituents that they’re ineffectual. It’s hard to imagine that too many base voters, in Iowa or anywhere else, are going to say, “Well, if Trey Gowdy likes Marco Rubio, that’s good enough for me.”
For a contrast, look at the Iowa endorsements Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has gotten. There’s Rep. Steve King, who’s an embarrassment to the national party but is also perhaps the single most anti-immigrant member of Congress, a good thing to be right now (particularly given that immigration is Rubio’s area of greatest vulnerability among primary voters). There’s Bob Vander Plaats of the Family Leader, probably the state’s most influential evangelical activist. And there’s Steve Deace, the state’s most important conservative talk radio host. It’s an anti-establishment triumvirate, each with a genuine ability to bring voters along with them, all backing Cruz.
Of course, as much of a boost as a candidate can get from winning Iowa, it doesn’t guarantee anything, as Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, the winners of the last two caucuses, can attest. (Little-known fact: both Huckabee and Santorum are running for president this year.) But unlike them, Cruz has laid a foundation in money and organization to take advantage of all the attention a win in Iowa would produce.
If you’re a Rubio supporter, you’re probably frustrated with the fact that your party’s base seems stubbornly unwilling to recognize Rubio’s obvious advantages for the general election. By now, a vigorous debate about electability should have been in full swing, with Republican voters trying to determine which candidate would have the greatest appeal to independent voters and do best against Hillary Clinton. But that discussion has been pretty quiet, for the simple reason that the voters don’t seem to care very much. They’re angry about the state of the country and they’re fed up with their party’s leadership, so telling them that Rubio has more crossover potential than Cruz isn’t going to be all that persuasive.
So Marco Rubio can have Trey Gowdy vouch for him, but at this moment, and for the purposes of the election’s first contest, it probably won’t do any good. That isn’t to say that things won’t change — it never hurts to remind ourselves that the voting hasn’t started yet, and there will almost certainly be a few twists and turns before the party picks its nominee. But the anger of the Republican base at the party’s leadership has all along been the driving force of this campaign, and that’s one thing that probably isn’t going to change. The question is who can best turn it to their advantage.