Marco's Last Stand
In Florida, we are finally beginning to see signs of a paid media pummeling of Trump. Highly visible anti-Trump advertising has been running in Florida at a good clip. The TV ads are also being augmented with direct mail, attacking Trump for his views on such things as government confiscation of property through eminent domain.
Though some polling showed Trump with a lead of up to 20 points over Rubio, that polling all pre-dated the February 25th turning point in rhetoric against Trump. A new Monmouth University poll has Trump’s lead down to 8 points, but more importantly it’s showing that Marco Rubio has been banking early and absentee votes by a sizeable margin. This is significant since Trump has not been really able to close strong and converting late-deciding voters has been a strength, to date, for Rubio (which almost put him over the top in Virginia).
It’s notable that Ted Cruz appears to be contesting Florida despite indications that he’s running a distant third in the winner-take-all state. Recently, his campaign announced the opening of ten campaign offices and on Monday a Super PAC that supports Cruz began airing ads attacking, not Trump, but Rubio. Cruz, it seems, is more worried about Rubio hitting his stride and changing the narrative with a win in Florida than he is about handing 99 delegates to Trump.
On Monday night, CNN published a report alleging that there were high-level conversations within the Rubio campaign about the senator dropping out of the race before Florida votes on March 15th. Predictably, the source was anonymous and according to Rubio's communications director, Alex Conant, nobody from CNN contacted the campaign to get a reaction. Compounding that, immediately after the kerfuffle, CNN disinvited Conant from a previously scheduled interview with Anderson Cooper.
The idea that Rubio would drop out at this stage is absurd given the aforementioned early voting that’s been going on. A Rubio withdrawal would all but hand the state over to Trump, an outcome that the campaign would probably see as the least desirable among the various scenarios. While there is no evidence this story was planted, it sounds a lot like the dirty tricks we’ve been seeing ever since Iowa to create uncertainty about the future of a rival campaign perceived to be standing in the way of Ted Cruz.
It seems like the Cruz campaign can’t get out of its own way and is being too clever by half. The irony is that a Rubio win in Florida is probably less dangerous to Cruz in the long run than a Trump win. Rubio would need to couple a Florida win with wins elsewhere that might be very hard to come by, especially with John Kasich presumably eating into Rubio’s numbers. If Trump wins Florida, and then the nomination, the actions of the Cruz campaign in the Sunshine State will be scrutinized for years to come. For Rubio, Florida represents the last best hope of derailing the Trump train.