With rumors swirling that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) may officially drop out of the Republican race in advance of Florida's vote next week, Rubio spokesman Alex Conant made an unexpected request to a reporter from CNN.
— John Berman (@JohnBerman) March 11, 2016
It is highly unusual for a campaign to ask its voters to vote for another candidate, to say the least. But the calculus here is simple: For Rubio to possibly get the nomination, he needs Donald Trump not to get a majority of delegates before the convention. The 66 delegates that will go to the winner of Ohio are 5 percent of the total that Trump needs to achieve that goal. Rubio is polling in fourth in the state, down in the single digits, so his team is asking voters to cast a ballot for Ohio Gov. John Kasich instead.
Part of that suggestion was probably hoping that Kasich's team might offer a quid pro quo, asking its supporters to back Rubio in Florida. If that was the plan, it didn't work. In what was perhaps the meanest thing to come out of the Kasich campaign so far this cycle, a spokesman declined Rubio's offer of support.
Kasich spox Rob Nichols on Rubio news: "We were going to win in OH without his help, just as he's going to lose in FL w/o ours"
— Kathleen Ronayne (@kronayne) March 11, 2016
Ouch. But Nichols is right.
If you look at the polling in Florida, you can see why Rubio's worried. Recent polls have suggested a tighter race than in the past, with Rubio trailing Trump by 7 points in a new Washington Post/Univision poll. Plus, Thursday night's debate may have moved some of the numbers around even more.
But Rubio's consistently trailed Trump by a wide margin over the last month in the average of all available polls and still trails by a wide margin. Even if you tack on Kasich's support, Rubio is still behind Trump.
In Ohio, the picture is different. Kasich has a much smaller gap with Trump, and in a Fox News poll this week, even leads him. (There have been fewer recent polls in Ohio, so the polling average doesn't go back as far.) Rubio-plus-Kasich beats Trump, but Kasich is justifiably confident that he can win Ohio on his own.
Kasich's team also recognizes that if Rubio loses Florida, he's done. And if Rubio is done, his support would likely transfer heavily to Kasich, leaving Kasich in a strong position to be the favored establishment candidate, should the convention come down to a floor fight. Sure, Trump gains the 99 delegates from Florida, but Kasich figures it's worth giving those up to lose Rubio.
But, again: What's remarkable about all of this is that Rubio's campaign admits that stopping Trump is the priority to the point of endorsing another candidate in a particular state. The Rubio campaign is now the victim in the horror movie who knocks over chairs as he stumbles forward, hoping to slow down the monster that's chasing him.
The victim usually gets eaten.