Hours before Thursday's Republican presidential debate, conservative pundit Erick Erickson shared a "rumor" that Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have agreed to a deal that could change the landscape of the GOP race. Erickson says that if the rumor is true, Cruz and Rubio will play nice in the coming days: "Cruz will stay out of Rubio’s way in Florida and might even suggest people support Rubio in Florida. Everywhere else, Rubio will stay out of Cruz’s way." After Tuesday's Florida Primary, the rumor goes, Rubio will drop out and join Cruz on a unity ticket in a last-ditch effort to stop Donald Trump.
The rumor came along with news that a Cruz-friendly super PAC was canceling a major anti-Rubio ad campaign in Florida just days before the Sunshine State's Republican primary. Though the group says the attack ads were cancelled because Rubio "can lose Florida all by himself," if Erickson is right, it could also be read as evidence of a deal between Cruz and Rubio, with Cruz giving Rubio some face-saving relief in his home state in exchange for Rubio dropping out after the March 15 primary and throwing his support behind Cruz.
New York Magazine's Ed Kilgore notes that at Thursday's debate, Cruz and Rubio refrained altogether from attacking one another. Kilgore writes, "That makes little sense other than in the context of a tacit anti-Trump alliance in which Cruz (who's been a real problem for Rubio in Florida) and Rubio have reached some accommodation."
Rubio dismissed rumors of a Cruz-Rubio unity ticket as "'House of Cards' stuff" earlier this week, but unless he pulls off a surprise victory in his home state, the Florida senator has little hope of winning enough delegates to be the Republican nominee. As of Friday, FiveThirtyEight's polls-plus forecast gives Rubio just a 15 percent chance of winning Tuesday's Florida primary. Endorsing Cruz in exchange for a role in a Cruz administration could be Rubio's best option if he suffers an embarrassing loss on Tuesday.
The thinking goes that Rubio's backing would help Cruz attract the mainstream Republican support he needs to build a formidable anti-Trump coalition. Trump picked up a high profile endorsement of his own Friday morning, winning the support of former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson.
Ted Cruz has been saying for months that he can beat Trump in a one-on-one race. If Erickson's rumor is accurate, Gov. John Kasich (who might drop out if he doesn't win in his home state of Ohio on Tuesday) will be the only person standing in the way of a Cruz-Trump sprint to the convention.