Anything may happen but as of this moment Donald Trump is headed to victory in Florida tomorrow night and that will go a long way in clinching his position as the Republican nominee for president. It will crush Senator Marco Rubio who will have been beaten in his own home state.
But not so fast. In a curious way it might make both men more dependent on each other than ever before.
There is a general assumption that what Trump has done to win the nomination has diminished his chances of winning the general election. Obviously, Mr. Trump will have to revisit Women, Hispanics, Blacks and any other alienated constituencies. The general consensus is that Trump will need a woman on the ticket, as his vice presidential nominee, or else a whole lot of potential Trump voters will sit at home. And his choice would most likely be South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley. But there are some compelling reasons behind a Trump-Rubio ticket as well.
Rubio? Who can’t even carry his home state? The reasons are complicated.
In 1960 the Democratic Party found itself in a similar dilemma. They had started the political season with an army of potential nominees. One by one they were eliminated. The first to drop out was Illinois Senator Adlai Stevenson, the party elder statesman. He had already run twice and lost. The early front runner, Senator Estes Kefauver, of Tennessee was next to go. And then the so called “Happy Warrior” Minnesota Senator, Hubert Humphrey, who lost the West Virginia Primary to young Senator John Kennedy of Massachusetts.
Toward the end of the nominating season the numbers had been reduced to three serious contenders. Senator Kennedy, Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri and Senator Lyndon Johnson of Texas. Johnson was considered by many as the most experienced and the most likely to win against a Republican in the general election.
Kennedy won the nomination but the party was deeply fractured.
The Johnson campaign workers were especially bitter toward Kennedy, an upstart, son of a millionaire, who was a Catholic. No Catholic had ever been elected president.
Kennedy wisely divined that he needed Lyndon Johnson as his vice presidential running mate. His own supporters were furious. And Johnson’s supporters were apoplectic. In the end it took the strength of will of both men, individually, to pull it off.
Johnson knew that Kennedy would not win without him. But Johnson humbled himself and accepted the second spot on the ticket and eventually both Kennedy and Johnson became U.S. presidents. Even politics can be a game of inches.
Notwithstanding Marco Rubio’s failure to win his own state of Florida, it is still very possible that Donald Trump will not win a general election without his support. It is less an issue of region and home state as it is demographics.
Trump has offended Hispanics and Rubio is Hispanic.
Trump is a Presbyterian who needs a Catholic on the ticket. Rubio is Catholic.
Trump has been publicly opposed by Mitt Romney, who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. They are key to carrying the Mountain States, including swing states such as New Mexico and Colorado. Rubio grew up as LDS and is a favorite of Romney.
Trump needs Florida to win. Although Trump is likely to beat Rubio in the Florida GOP primary tomorrow night, Rubio is a native of Florida and might make the difference if it comes down to Florida as it did in 2000.
And Trump needs to unite the Republican Party. No one has taken more abuse from Donald Trump than Marco Rubio. If Rubio can forgive Trump, then Cruz, Romney, Ryan and everybody else will have to fall into line.
Finally, if Senator Marco Rubio losses Florida Tuesday, he will need Donald Trump too. His future political career will depend on helping to heal the Republican Party. A successful nationwide campaign as the GOP vice presidential nominee will restore his relevancy.
In 1964 establishment Republicans badmouthed their own nominee, Barry Goldwater and he went down to defeat. But one GOP public figure stayed true and faithfully supported the nominee of his party. That man, Richard Nixon, won the nomination himself four years later and was elected president that same year.
Will Donald Trump make the offer? And would Senator Marco Rubio accept it if he did? That discussion is still months away. And at this moment it is as unlikely as it was for John F. Kennedy to take on Lyndon B. Johnson as his running mate.
(See this dated assessment from one year ago. Who knew that Trump would trump both Bush and Rubio?)