As long as I can remember, and that horizon shrinks daily, GOP voters have been encouraged not to vote their conscience or to vote for the man who best exemplified their ideas of governance but to vote for the guy who was the most electable. Sometimes that works out okay. Like with George W. Bush in 2000. Most often we get Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. GOP voters are at that juncture this election season. Today, my colleague and boss, Leon Wolf, makes his case for why he is endorsing Marco. Leon and I have been together on RedState for a decade. I have nothing but the highest regard for his judgment (other than is participation in a website called Swords Crossed or something like that) but in this case, I strongly disagree with his conclusion.
In fact, I think he falls into a version of the electability trap. After stating that Cruz is the strongest conservative and most likely to carry fire and sword to the federal Leviathan if he is elected, Leon uses exit polls of the recent primary contests to make the case that Ted Cruz can't expand his base of voters. While his methodology supports his conclusion, I believe his methodology is fatally flawed.
Voting for Ted Cruz is important. As it stands today, there is no good reason to expect, barring deus ex machina, that we are going to keep Donald Trump from getting the nomination. I expect that Bush and Kasich and Carson voters are much more likely to gravitate to Trump than they are to either Cruz or Rubio. I also discount the theory that a majority of Cruz voters would go to Rubio, or vice versa, should one of those men drop out. More to the point, over 60% of the electorate, aggregated over the previous primaries, voted against a conservative nominee. There is really slim reason to think that math gets better as we go forward. (This underscores what I have said for years. Despite a majority of the GOP self-identifying as some stripe of conservative, actual conservatives are noisy minority in the GOP.)
Let's not split open goats and examine the entrails of exit polls, let's look at the results to date.
The numbers in blue indicate a result that was essentially a tie. Cruz and Rubio received the same number of delegates in Nevada. Rubio beat Cruz by 1200 votes in South Carolina out of 738,000 votes cast and with Nikki Haley, Trey Gowdy, and Tim Scott campaigning for him. This is not to diminish the second place finish (okay, I lied) but Rubio's second place finish was by the skin of his teeth and it won him zero delegates. By contrast, in New Hampshire, a state much more amenable to Rubio's style and message, Rubio finished fifth and lost to Cruz by over 3,000 votes of the 267,000 ballots cast.
If there is anyone who cannot expand his base of support, based on what has actually happened, that person is Marco Rubio.
Now let's look to the future. On the one hand you have the carefully prepared charts purporting, and I say "purporting" deliberately because the idea that exit polls in any state are predictive beyond demographically similar polities is not mathematics. I'm not going to claim that polls are accurate, per se, but if we credit that they can give us a hint of generalities then the polls of upcoming states gives us a dramatically different view of the campaign.
Using the RCP poll averages this is what the upcoming three weeks looks like, the number in blue show results within the margin of error of each other:
How many states is Rubio predicted to win? By my count that number is zero. How many states is he within striking distance of Trump? Again, a big, fat goose egg. Where is he in second, outside the margin of error? Massachusetts.
Let's look at home state primaries: Cruz is leading in Texas while Rubio is third, outside the margin of error, in Florida.*
If we look at "expanding their base" as a criteria, Cruz leads Rubio, within the margin of error, in Michigan and North Carolina. He leads Rubio decisively in Ohio. Where is Rubio expanding his base? Nowhere.
In short, not only is Ted Cruz the strongest conservative in the race but, if the name of the game is "stop Trump" (by the way, I don't think that is the game but I'll play along arguendo), Cruz is the only candidate showing sufficient strength anywhere to accomplish that task. Rubio is perhaps too conservative to attract "moderates" (a bloc I contend will coalesce around Trump) and his history is too sketchy on immigration and government eavesdropping to attract a huge number of Cruz's conservatives. Marco Rubio can't appeal to voters anywhere, he can't carry his home state, and he cannot possibly beat Donald Trump.
*There is a new Quinnipiac Poll that shows Rubio in second in FL but trailing Trump by 16 points. I'm not interesting in arguing particular polls but rather general position in polls.