On Sunday, in the aftermath of the South Carolina primary, Erick Erickson asserted that It Becomes Rubio’s Race To Lose. The article isn't long and it bears reading. This is the crux of the argument:
With Jeb Bush out of the race, Rubio will go up more. When Kasich drops out, Rubio will go up further. With them out, Rubio will go up more than Cruz might with Carson out of the race.
Donald Trump cannot beat either Cruz or Rubio. Judging by the results of South Carolina, Trump may not be able to Rubio even with Cruz in if we presume both Kasich and Bush’s support goes to Rubio.
Cruz, given his operation and money, is not at a time to decide if he must drop out. He still has Texas and a huge delegate take. For Cruz’s supporters who say Cruz suffered because of withering attacks from the media and outside groups, that is not going to change.
But South Carolina undermines core tenets of the Cruz strategy and talking points. Marco Rubio is now in a race wherein he has a better shot at winning than Cruz.
It is based on two key points. First, that Rubio will inherit most of the Jeb Bush voters and John Kasich voters. The second point is that this addition to Rubio's vote total will force Cruz out of the race, both races will coalesce around Rubio and he will win the nomination.
Before I go any further let me offer one anecdote. In the 2012 presidential race, Rick Perry dropped out of the race in January. Maryland voted on April 3 and I cast my vote for Governor Perry.
Where I differ from Erick's analysis is in the behavior of voters this primary season. Voters who are prone to vote for Bush are hardly likely to move, en masse, or even "en little bit" to Marco Rubio after Bush's attacks on Rubio. In fact, I would contend that Bush voters are likely to either bow out of the presidential primary process, cast a protest vote for Bush as a way to say "I told you so," or cast their vote for the person who can most damage Rubio. At one time, I, too would have said that Ben Carson's voters have a logical home with Ted Cruz. After Iowa, not so much.
If Ted Cruz is out of the race by the time Maryland's primary rolls around this year, Senator Cruz still gets my vote. I've developed enough distrust of Marco Rubio on basically every conceivable issue that I will not vote for him in a primary. I've developed such a severe loathing of his online supporters that I will certainly not lift a finger to help Rubio win the nomination. In my mind, he's long since crossed the threshold of being someone I'd care to support in a primary by his Goebbels-esqe rendering of his role in the Gang of Eight and his scurrilous and personal attacks on Ted Cruz while having nothing at all to say about Trump in the same vein.
If he wins the nomination I will vote for him and I will do so more cheerfully than I voted for Bob Dole, John McCain, or Mitt Romney. But he is getting the nomination without my vote. I suspect most Cruz voters feel very similar to the way I do.
I'm under no illusions that Rubio supporters feel any differently. Indeed, I would be rather surprised if the Rubio boosters who have crowed about how Cruz was "unelectable" or "can't beat Hillary" for months would suddenly STFU and fall in line.
Rather, I think the presence of Donald Trump in the race gives every losing candidate's supporters a place to cast a protest vote, actively or not, to say Screw You to the candidates they opposed.
The only way either Rubio or Cruz wins the nomination is if Donald Trump is knocked out of the race. And that is less likely to happen today than it was last Friday.