In a rare and candid interview in October, the top consultant to the pro-Jeb Bush super PAC Right to Rise USA laid out his theory of the GOP race. Mike Murphy told Bloomberg’s Sasha Issenberg, “I think we are the campaign who can consolidate the winning largest lane in the party,” adding that Donald Trump was a “false zombie front-runner. He’s dead politically.”
As it turns out, the “lane” Murphy conceptualized — the one populated by less confrontational Republicans favored by the party’s DC elites, and the one John McCain and Mitt Romney traveled to the nomination in 2008 and 2012 — didn’t just bottleneck in 2016. It might as well have had a “Dead End” sign at its entrance.
The two remaining establishment-acceptable candidates in the race, Marco Rubio and John Kasich, have won a staggeringly low 28.2 percent of all votes cast in GOP primaries so far — combined. That wouldn’t be enough to win a three-way race if their votes were added together, despite their having won 72 percent of all the congressional and gubernatorial endorsement points for the four active candidates. Even if Kasich were to win Ohio tonight and pick up all of Rubio’s delegates, it wouldn’t be nearly enough to overtake Trump or Ted Cruz.
As for Bush, he and his super PAC spent $130 million for two fourth-place finishes. To be fair, like Murphy I totally failed to anticipate just how little appeal candidates like these would generate, particularly among the blue-state and well-educated Republican primary voters who have propelled such candidates to nominations in past years.
Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich take the stage before a Republican presidential primary debate at Fox Theatre on March 3 in Detroit.