Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The endorsements pour in for Rubio, but the smart money isn't so sure

With the departures of Chris Christie and especially Jeb Bush, the "Establishment lane" to the Republican nomination presents a clear choice between John Kasich/A> and Marco Rubio, and the Establishment has chosen Rubio.

After the Iowa Caucuses, I wrote the smart money and endorsements were more for Rubio than ever.  At that time, Rubio had just passed Bush.  Now, Rubio has shot up from 58 endorsement points to 137 as I write this with more than half of those (72) coming in the past two weeks.  Not only is Rubio in the lead by a wide margin, more than 100 points ahead of Ted Cruz's 22 and Kasich's 20, he's passed both where Ronald Reagan and John McCain were at this point in their campaigns.  The Party has decided on Rubio.

Normally, that would be it, as only one candidate in the past 36 years led in endorsements at this stage of the campaign yet failed to earn the nomination.  That was Dick Gephardt in 1988, who eventually lost the nomination to Mike Dukakis.*  The contrary historical precedent is that no Republican who has won both New Hampshire and South Carolina has failed to win the nomination.  This favors Trump.  Follow over the jump for how the smart money is reacting to that.

The betting markets reflect the ambivalence of the omens.  Predictwise currently lists Trump's odds of winning the nomination at 52% with Rubio in second at 44%.  Cruz and Kasich are well behind at 2% each.  The stats nerds at FiveThirtyEight think the odds are about right to maybe a touch high for Trump (half would hold and half would sell) and a touch low for Rubio (people who held on Trump would generally hold on Rubio, while those who would sell Trump would buy Rubio).  Just the same, the smart money now favors Trump, even if the political insiders don't.

As for whether Rubio can actually stop Trump, that won't start this week.  The Nevada Republican Caucuses are tonight and Trump is favored.  Rubio's best chances to finally win a primary come on Super Tuesday, when he's currently favored to win Georgia and Virginia, at least according to FiveThirtyEight's polls-plus model.  As for Michigan, that doesn't look so good, as the latest poll shows Kasich in second behind Trump with Rubio fighting with Cruz for third.  Stay tuned.

*The 1988 Democratic primary might serve as an instructive analogy to this year's Republican campaign, as Dukakis lost to Bush the Elder, the only time two presidents of the same party served in succession without the first dying in office and elevating his Vice President since Hoover followed Coolidge.  That could happen this year with Clinton or Sanders following Obama.  It would be nice if that worked for the Democrats instead of the Republicans (the time before Coolidge to Hoover was Roosevelt to Taft, also a Republican to Republican transition).  Of course, Taft, Hoover, and Bush all ended up being one-term presidents, but that's a problem for 2020, not 2016.

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