Just a week ago, the GOP establishment hoped New Hampshire might clean up its muddled primary mess by highlighting a mainstream savior to take down Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. The man most hoped would do so: Miami's own Marco Rubio, who had steamrolled to a surprising third-place finish in Iowa.
Instead, Marco-bot went haywire on the debate stage and tanked at the polls. The race for the Republican nod is more confused than ever. And today, Rubio's campaign hinted at an apocalyptic strategy: Taking the fight all the way to a brokered convention.
"We very easily could be looking at May — or the convention," Rubio's campaign manager, Terry Sullivan, told the Associate Press this morning about when the race will be decided. "I would be surprised if it's not May or the convention."
So what is a brokered convention and why is the mere mention of it anathema to party bigwigs? In short, it's what happens when a primary process fails to choose a clear winner. So instead of the party convention being a bash to celebrate the formal coronation of the party's candidate, it becomes a dogfight where delegates have to elect their leader.
That hasn't happened in modern American politics. In fact, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the last winning presidential candidate who came out of a brokered convention; the GOP almost had one in 1976, but Gerald Ford eked out a win over Ronald Reagan.
So the fact that Rubio's campaign is suddenly touting the possibility is nothing short of jaw-dropping. It's a testament to the chaos already shaking the Republican Party's process, with Donald Trump — an outsider loathed by party kingmakers — destroying the competition in New Hampshire and only Ted Cruz, who is nearly as loathed, looking like a serious threat to take him down.
South Carolina, which will vote a week from Saturday, is shaping up to be a bloodbath for the remaining would-be establishment candidates. Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Rubio all desperately need a strong showing there to survive.
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At the moment, RealClearPolitics still finds a slight polling edge for Rubio, though Trump looks likely to walk with a 36 percent lead to Ted Cruz's 19 percent and Rubio's distant 12.7 percent.
Rubio is in a tough place, even without his flub in New Hampshire. He's got a target on his back from the well-financed Bush, but he's also taking daily heat from Democratic PACs and politicians who view him as the most serious national threat to Hillary Clinton.
His campaign's "brokered convention" message today seems clear: Rubio isn't going anywhere, even if he leaves a scorched earth of GOP carnage behind him.