Marco Rubio is gone; another campaign “suspended” after facing the full force of the Trump phenomenon. The senator must have known it wasn’t looking good in his home state of Florida. Appearing tired and dejected on camera just a few days before the primary this Tuesday, he then experienced a crushing, double-digit defeat (which not only forced him out of the race, but also secured Donald Trump another 99 delegates on his way to the nomination).
Rubio bowed out gracefully on Tuesday night, sharing his thoughts on the race: “America’s in the middle of a real political storm, a real tsunami”, he lamented, “…we should have seen this coming.” The problem, of course, is that we did see this coming.
Trump has been leading in the polls almost since the day he entered the race, and while it was fair to question the legitimacy of those polls before the first round of primaries and caucuses (especially after his narrow defeat in Iowa), they quickly proved themselves to be correct. Right out of the gates, the media – either because they were ahead of the curve, or more likely because they are like radioactive fish to polluted water – started treating Trump as if he were already dubbed President of the United States.
The polls, the attention, and the momentum all lined up for Trump months ago. The Republican party saw this but threw it to the side, pretending Trumpmania would come crashing down without any re-strategising or interference from their camp.
Flash forward to 15 March: Trump wins four out of five primaries, including Florida, securing him just over half of the 1,237 delegates needed to clench the nomination. Once again, he wins on pluralities, not majorities.
On the same night, governor John Kasich wins his first contest, which also happens to be his home state of Ohio. He declares this victory a reason to stay in the race – despite the crucial fact that he is so far behind in the delegate count that he has no path to the nomination without a brokered convention (where the party delegates horse-trade over who will be the nominee if no one gets a majority). Meanwhile, the Republican elite jump on the brokered-bandwagon, either applauding Kasich’s success or suggesting candidates of their own.
The GOP can angle for a brokered convention, sure, and dream up plots to get “their guys” on the ticket. But if their goal were actually to block Trump’s nomination, they would be throwing every penny, endorsement and resource behind senator Ted Cruz, who fell just short of winning Missouri on Tuesday night, but who has consistently proven himself to be the closest competitor to Trump in terms of both states and delegates won. In a one-on-one battle with Trump, there is good evidence to suggest moderates and last-minute voters would swing behind Cruz, giving him an edge in the rest of the primaries. But this requires Kasich to get out of the race and the GOP officials to get on board.
But they won’t get on board. Their refusal to endorse Cruz has revealed their true colours, and should make any conservative Republican take pause. Some in the party try to claim that it’s Cruz’s hostility that keeps endorsements away, but in reality it seems to be his unwavering commitment to policies that Republicans have feared to embrace – like reforming the tax code and slashing corporate subsidies – that has left the GOP establishment more willing to let a left-wing media star become their nominee than a fundamental conservative.
One would have thought the success of Trump would have been a lesson in itself – that people are craving something fundamentally different to the Washington establishment. But the GOP seems to be giving a lesson to their base instead – on how to be Republican In Name Only.