What’s a nightmare Super Tuesday scenario for Marco Rubio look like? There’s a good argument that it’s exactly what you’re seeing tonight: Donald Trump running the map, with the exception of a couple states — Texas and Oklahoma — that Ted Cruz wins instead, leaving Rubio empty-handed.
With Cruz now projected to win his home state and its neighbor to the north, he can now make the argument that he’s the only candidate to defeat Trump, which he’s done three times, including in the kickoff caucuses in Iowa.
Rubio has yet to notch a victory, a fact that should deflate his case that the party should rally around him as its last best hope to stop Trump.
The delegate count will matter. It’s possible that Rubio manages to finish strong in enough states to keep it close. But Rubio and his campaign on Tuesday sought even to tamp down those expectations. They argued that the candidate doesn’t need to win anywhere to achieve his ultimate goal of keeping the race going into the convention and then securing the nomination there on a later ballot. The idea would be to keep enough other candidates in the field to ensure the vote continues to divide among them, blocking Trump from amassing the 1,237 delegates he needs to secure the nomination.
To do that, Rubio pledged to stay in the race no matter how he performs in his native Florida on March 15. But in that contest — plus Ohio, which votes the same day, and six later events — delegates will be awarded in their entirety to the top vote-getter, meaning near-miss finishers will collect no consolation prizes.
Rubio is relying on a thin and narrowing path to the nomination. And it would be hard to imagine how he can argue he’s earned the party’s nomination if he enters the July convention in Cleveland without a single first-place finish.