Taking a Campaign’s Temperature

The Republican contest for the Presidential nomination is winding down. The original crowd of contenders has narrowed to four, and two of them have very narrow paths to tread. Marco Rubio has badly underperformed so far and his future prospects are bleak even in his native Florida. Rumors abound that there is a growing sentiment in his senior staff that now is the time to throw in the towel. The campaign has rushed to deny any such discussion, but surely it would be malfeasance not to even consider the consequences of continuing. Rubio is young and, before this venture, had a promising future in Florida politics. A run for Governor was almost assumed. If he stays in through the Florida primary and gets beaten as badly as the current polls predict, his political future will be damaged.

thermometerThis makes Tuesday’s contests in Hawaii, Michigan, Idaho and Mississippi absolutely critical, even though only Michigan has a significant number of delegates at stake. It will be akin to taking a campaign’s temperature. These states span the country, except for the North-East, and cover diverse demographics. Rubio simply cannot afford poor third and fourth place showings, especially with voter percentages in the single digits. The same may be true for Kasich. Michigan provides the first concrete test of his rust belt strategy. He probably won’t win but he cannot afford an embarrassing failure.

Of course, a wild card in this analysis is personal pride. Both Rubio and Kasich have staked a lot on this run and have endured significant adversities already. It is hard to give up before the referee counts you out. When major candidates leave the field while the game is on, they often have in mind the prospects of a Vice-Presidential selection. For Rubio, at least, this is no longer possible. Neither Trump nor Cruz would have any reason to select him, and many not to do so. The door remains ajar for Kasich, who has mostly stood aside from the campaign vitriol. But it would close if he lost on his home turf in Ohio. So, does he want to roll the dice or leave that question untested?