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The Rubio Perplex



Chait remains bullish on Rubio, and much of his analysis is plausible. But Pareene raises a useful counter, focusing on Rubio’s lack of a ground game:

Johnson and Alberta say, too, that Rubio is “running a different type of campaign, one that eschews spending on policy staffers, field operations, and other traditional aspects of a winning bid in favor of television advertising and digital outreach.”

The problem with that sort of campaign is that it isn’t one. It’s simply not a strategy that a person who wants to be president would choose to achieve that goal.

The superiority of field operations over “digital outreach” isn’t one of those hoary old campaign cliches beloved by out-of-touch old hacks: There is rigorous evidence supporting the (common-sense) idea that direct personal contact with potential voters is the single most consistently effective way to win campaigns. It’s commonplace (in the GOP, at least) to compare Marco Rubio, the young and charismatic one-term senator, with Barack Obama circa 2008, but Barack Obama’s revolutionary, Clinton-beating 2008 primary campaign was built around actual boots-on-the-ground organizing.

The idiocy of Rubio’s “plan” to “win” the nomination cannot be overstated: It’s not just untested; it’s more or less what a political scientist and a veteran campaign strategist would collaboratively design as a hypothetical worst-practices presidential campaign strategy.

It is not impossible for Rubio’s plan to work. As Silver also emphasizes, he has high favorables, and as the race proceeds TV becomes more important and retail campaigning less so. But it leaves him vulnerable to getting buried early. I don’t think Chait’s response that Rubio is running ahead of his national averages in the early states is very persuasive. The numbers he’s getting now aren’t nearly good enough. The case for Rubio is that he has a larger upside potential than the competition, but it’s going to be hard for him to realize it without an organization that can get the vote out.

And as Parene says, Rubio continues to have the problem that he’s relying on a “The Party Decides” scenario when the party hasn’t actually decided. Jeb! and Christie remain in the race, and while they almost certainly can’t get the nomination they’re around sucking up money, endorsements, and even in some cases (Christie in New Hampshire, Jeb! in Florida) possibly even votes. If Cruz can win Iowa and South Carolina while holding his own in New Hampshire…maybe Rubio can track him down from behind but I wouldn’t invest huge sums on it.

If forced to pick, I’d probably put Cruz slightly ahead of Rubio right now, with Trump a distant third.

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