Flash back to early March in the chaotic Republican primary. Miami's GOP golden boy, Marco Rubio, was still clinging onto faint hope that he could bring mainstream Republicans together against insurgent Donald Trump. But then the latest polls began coming out of Florida, and it was clear Rubio was bound for crushing defeat in his home state.
That's when Ted Cruz's camp offered a tantalizing idea: Drop out of the race, sign on as Cruz's VP, and destroy Trump.
It wasn't just an idle whim, either. According to Cruz's camp, who spilled the story to CNN this past Sunday, they had even conducted polls in key swing states to see what a joint Rubio-Cruz ticket would do. The results?
"Blowout," an unnamed Cruz staffer tells CNN, estimating the pair of Cuban-Americans would have taken down Trump by a 60-30 margin by running in tandem instead of siphoning off votes from each other.
We all know that "unity ticket" never happened. Instead, Rubio staked everything on pulling off a miracle in Florida. And in the end, he won just a single county in the entire state — his home district of Miami-Dade — and Trump's resounding win (combined with victories in four other battleground states that day) put him on a steamroller path to the nomination.
Why did Rubio turn down Cruz's offer? The Senator hasn't responded to CNN's report, but his staffers tell the network that he doubted the pair would actually be any more effective together against Trump, especially because as freshman senators, they fed exactly the "inside Washington" image against which Trump was so effectively raging.
Of course, unpacking these kinds of anonymously sourced political stories is about as straightforward as untangling Trump's tax returns.
Could Rubio have put a speed bump in Trump's run to Cleveland by dropping out and jumping onto Cruz's train? Maybe.
But even in Florida, the numbers don't back up Cruz's claims. Add every vote Rubio and Cruz got in the Sunshine State primary, and they'd still come up about 40,000 votes short of Trump's number.
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And Cruz's dalliance with choosing an early VP in Indiana didn't exactly swing the race there. Barely a week after announcing Carly Fiorina as his running mate, Cruz dropped out after another round of stinging losses to Trump.
The truth is, as Politico notes this morning, Cruz's tales of Rubio rejecting a VP bid and letting Trump run off with the nomination are probably mostly about setting up a 2020 rematch between the senators.
That doesn't mean that both men — along with Miami's fellow spectacular failure, Jeb Bush — don't share blame for allowing their party to get hijacked by a guy who thinks targeting the children of U.S. enemies is legit foreign policy. Rubio and Bush in particular wasted months and millions of dollars attacking each other and ignoring Trump's rise.
In the end, that probably added far more to the real-estate magnate's rise than a last-ditch VP offer when Trump was already inevitable.