Marco Rubio is not going to win the race to represent the Republican Party in November’s presidential election. If there was ever any doubt about that, it was put to rest on Saturday night when he robotically kept repeating what was apparently the only talking point he’d bothered to memorize prior to taking the stage for the last debate before the New Hampshire primary.
While Rubio’s awful performance made it undeniable that he’s not ready for a presidential campaign—never mind actually holding the office—it’s also quite clear that he got into the fray with an exceptionally thin record of achievement. If you don’t believe me, take a look at Rick Santorum’s tortured performance when asked about Rubio’s accomplishments.
Still, all is not lost for Florida’s junior senator. There’s a path forward for him that could soften the embarrassment of his debate performance, create genuine good will towards him within his party, and—with a little bit of luck—position him for a more plausible run in 2020 or even 2024.
It's this: Make a deal with Donald Trump. The terms of the deal would call for him to leave the race and endorse Trump. In return, he’d be immediately named as Trump’s running mate. Sure, it would be an unlikely turn of events but it wouldn’t be completely unprecedented. And while it would be a bold move, it could also create significant advantages for each man that would be hard to achieve otherwise.
For Trump, a Rubio alliance and endorsement would all but end the race for the nomination. The GOP establishment would find it almost impossible to hold out against a ticket that included the guy it had been desperately hoping would be its fallback candidate against the Trump insurgency. Trump would then have all spring to unify the party, build momentum and a war chest, and prepare for the fall.
Trump would also have a running mate who could conceivably mitigate the damage that he has done throughout the campaign to his own brand—and to the GOP’s—within the Hispanic community. A Trump/Rubio ticket wouldn’t carry the day among Hispanic votes but it might shave a few points off the margin of defeat, enough to swing a state or two perhaps.
Finally, Rubio would bring to the table a political power base in Florida, a must-win state for any Republican presidential candidate this year. (John Kasich could do the same for Ohio but it’s impossible to imagine him getting on board with Trump.) All in all, a prospective partnership with Rubio would bring benefits for Trump that could rightly be described as huuuuuuge.
As for Rubio, he’d not only regain the credibility that he lost in his quixotic campaign but he’d also instantly become a genuine player on the national stage, a status to which he’s aspired but never quite been able to achieve. More importantly, he’d be extremely well positioned—and much better prepared—for a run of his own next time. The GOP’s need for help among Hispanic voters isn’t going away any time soon and Rubio is on the short list of people who could, at least theoretically, be able to help.
So, obviously, this has the potential to be one of those proverbial win-win scenarios, but I know what you’re thinking: It’s such an outlandish idea, who in the world would be crazy enough to try something like this? Well, here are a couple of guys who actually did:
In 1976, Gerald Ford, who’d become president in the wake of Richard Nixon’s resignation, found himself in the fight of his life for the Republican nomination. Conservative firebrand Ronald Reagan was challenging Ford, a brash move against an incumbent president in a party that had always been deferential to its leaders and to tradition.
The GOP had allowed a rebellious Barry Goldwater to secure its nomination in 1964. After Goldwater got shellacked, party elders made sure that they’d never make that mistake again. And they never did (until this year, anyway). Reagan faced an uphill battle and, as the convention drew nearer, it became clear that only a miracle would keep Ford from securing a first ballot victory. It was then that Reagan’s brain trust decided to throw a Hail Mary pass. On July 26th, almost a month before the convention, Reagan named Pennsylvania senator Richard Schweiker as his running mate. History shows that the gambit failed that year though it did position Reagan well for his historic run in the following election cycle.
Trump likes bold moves and one like this would certainly qualify. A Trump/Rubio ticket would help both men.. and why not? This campaign season has been so unlikely, so improbable, that one more bombshell would just seem like par for the course.