First, there was his campaign’s odd — stupid — decision to raise expectations as people were still voting, predicting that they might win as many as four states. He won just one -- the Minnesota caucuses.
In most states, Rubio is running in third, which he should be used to. The particularly bad news is that he also hovered right around 20 percent in several states. He’s at 18.4 percent in Alabama, 24.3 percent in Georgia, 21.1 in Tennessee, 17.4 in Texas and 19.3 in Vermont.
Why is that a problem? Because those states all have delegate thresholds of 20 percent. If Rubio doesn’t get 20 percent of the vote statewide, he gets none of the at-large delegates awarded in the state. If he doesn't hit that number in congressional districts, same deal for their three delegates apiece.
As it stood relatively early Tuesday night — which can and will change — Donald Trump would get 91 at-large delegates in those states, and Ted Cruz 46. Rubio would tie John Kasich, who will each grab eight delegates.
He would tie John Kasich.
There are other delegates, awarded at the congressional district level, but a poor performance hurts him there, too. If he’s in third in Texas’s many congressional districts, for example, he gets zero delegates from each.
There are also other states, too, and Rubio will pick up some delegates there. The New York Times is tracking how that looks in real time, and the estimate is that Rubio will get about 100 delegates on the day to Cruz’s 180 and Trump’s 250. He’ll end up doing better than it looks right now.
But this isn’t how it was supposed to be! Jeb Bush is gone and Chris Christie is gone, and all the other establishment and moderate and moderate establishment guys are gone and their voters were supposed to come to Marco Rubio, right? This was the argument? Rubio was on fire over the weekend, blasting Donald Trump and having fun. He crushed Trump at the debate. And here he is, in third in most states, in second in at least one and maybe — maybe! — winning the largest share of Minnesota’s 28 delegates. Perhaps.
Rubio got up to speak at his rally on Tuesday night and actually said that Trump was falling in the polls as he, Rubio, was rising. That was his argument: Trump is heading down, and we are headed up.
At this point, that’s a bit like my saying that I’m this close to being higher than a 747 because I jumped into the air and it descended from 35,000 to 30,000 feet.
This is the guy who’s the establishment’s last, best hope. Even if Ted Cruz has a path forward after today — which, given the states left on the calendar, isn’t so clear — much of the establishment would happily choose arsenic before settling for him or Trump. And if Marco Rubio’s plan was to demonstrate that he’s the guy who can beat Trump, his best evidence to that effect at this point is Minnesota.
If he also wins the D.C. primary, he’ll be as successful as Walter Mondale’s 1984 presidential bid.