Once upon a time, back when it first looked as though Sen. Marco Rubio would not win in the Iowa caucuses but would do decently afterward, there were reports that his campaign had a "3-2-1" strategy: Third in Iowa, second in New Hampshire, winning in South Carolina.

Sure enough, he came in third in Iowa and was headed for second in New Hampshire -- until he ran into some traffic problems during the Republican debate a few days earlier. He came in fifth there, and second in South Carolina, barely. In Nevada, he finished in second. Three-two-one is out the window, in favor of 3-5-2-2.

Notice the distinct lack of 1's. Yet Rubio's still in, and many people think he's still got a shot, if he can consolidate the establishment vote and then the anti-Trump vote. But he keeps losing! Trump's rolling up delegates! Are those people delusional?

Well, no. They probably have the burden of proof, but they're not necessarily delusional. The recent history of nominations, in fact, makes clear that the fight can often be long, drawn out -- and the eventual victor slow to get out of the gates.

The last eight successful contested nominations for each election year look like this.

There were some quick wins: Al Gore and Bob Dole. There were a few slogs, too, including Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. But notice, too, Bill Clinton.

Clinton lost and lost and lost, over and over. He was similarly in a splintered field, which took a long time to work itself out. This doesn't map one-to-one -- there was no candidate that had a 2-1-1-1 strategy, as Donald Trump does -- but it reinforces the central idea: This thing is necessarily complex.

Notice, too, that the elections had been starting earlier and earlier, until this year. That means earlier resolutions than we're likely to see in 2016.

Anyway, if you're a Rubio fan, that's the most consolation I can offer you. Others have had rough starts and won, too!

Once out of the last eight contested nominations.

Marco Rubio’s rise to prominence

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD- MARCH 5 : Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center on Saturday, March 5, 2016 in National Harbor, MD. (Photos by Amanda Voisard)