The best-intentioned plans of the 2016 primary often go awry.
So it was Friday morning, after Marco Rubio’s communications director, Alex Conant, floated a proposal by the voters of Ohio and Florida. The gist? If they’re opposed to Donald Trump as their party’s standard-bearer, they need to vote for candidates who could beat him in those states.
“If you’re a Republican primary voter in Ohio and you don’t want Donald Trump to be the nominee, John Kasich is your best bet,” Conant told CNN. “If you’re a Republican primary voter here in Florida and you don’t want Donald Trump to be your nominee, Marco Rubio is your best bet. That is indisputable.”
Although it was a surprisingly candid moment—so much so that the CNN anchors followed up twice to make sure Conant’s meaning wasn’t misconstrued—it wasn’t the first sign that the Rubio campaign is preparing for a brokered convention.
But in order for Conant’s proposal to have the most impact, it more or less requires the Kasich campaign to be on board, so they can similarly advocate for their supporters to stop Trump in Florida. Both Ohio and Florida are winner-take-all, and Conant said Friday that any vote in Florida not for Rubio “is effectively a vote for Donald Trump.” Unfortunately for the Rubio camp, their Ohio counterparts aren’t biting. Just minutes after news of Conant’s idea broke, AP reported that Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the following:
Kasich spox Rob Nichols on Rubio news: "We were going to win in OH without his help, just as he's going to lose in FL w/o ours"— Kathleen Ronayne (@kronayne) March 11, 2016
Team Kasich sent me a statement Friday afternoon that had a different proposal for Rubio’s camp: “We agree with the Rubio campaign that the best chance to beat Donald Trump in Ohio is by voting for John Kasich, and in that spirit, Sen. Rubio should immediately tell his Super PAC to stop attacking the governor.”
Nichols’s original comment seemed almost knee-jerk, as if the Kasich campaign hadn’t prepared for strategic discussions about what their supporters in other states should do. But perhaps they simply decided they weren’t interested in any collusion. This certainly wasn’t the first time a proposal like Conant’s was made public. Mitt Romney, in an address earlier this month denouncing Trump’s candidacy, said he believed the GOP was capable of nominating a person who can represent conservative values and win the general. “Given the current delegate-selection process,” Romney said, “this means that I would vote for Marco Rubio in Florida, for John Kasich in Ohio, and for Ted Cruz or whichever one of the other two contenders has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state.” The Cruz campaign’s support would also be helpful to carrying out Conant’s plan, but that candidate has more to gain from Rubio and Kasich dropping out. Emails to the Cruz campaign went unanswered as of press time.
It appears the Rubio campaign took Romney’s suggestion to heart. But without the Kasich team, and even the Cruz team, advocating for the same thing, it’s tough to see how voters will hear the message loud enough—let alone get enthusiastic about the idea—for it to make much difference.