Florida Senator Marco Rubio jumped into the race for President yesterday, which, at first glance, is actually kind of surprising since former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is clearly already running. What advantage Rubio might have thought he had is arguably muted by Bush being in the race to compete for the favorite son status. It affects a lot of things in the nominating process – fundraising, innermost core of supporters, that sort of stuff.
On the other hand, the same could be said for Jeb Bush – what advantage he might have as Florida’s favorite son is imperiled by Rubio’s entrance. This may or may not matter in the nominating process – Florida doesn’t come up until March 15 (well after the early states somewhat winnow the field), and has moved to a winner-take-all delegate allocation system. So the prevailing theory is that Bush will survive the process until Florida because his name is Bush (candidates drop out when candidates run out of money, and Bushes don’t typically run out of money), but if Rubio can somehow hang on through Florida, it suddenly gets interesting.
The Tea Party wing of the GOP wants to control the nominating process in 2016, something they succeeded in doing in neither 2012 nor 2008. Republicans ended up nominating the candidate Tea Party voters considered “establishment,” and then those Tea Party voters promptly blamed the establishment for the Democrat’s wins in each election.
That same Tea Party wing despises all things Bush these days, and Rubio’s brief flirtation with actual fairness on the immigration debate seriously annoys them.
Republicans better take a second look at those two Florida boys. It has nothing to do with either Bush or Rubio. It has everything to do with basic electoral college math.
I will spare you the history, the background, and the pros and cons on how we got to this point in the Presidential election process. I’ve got an entire speech on the topic, and you can even hate math as much as I do and still enjoy it, so contact me if you’d like me to speak to your group. But trust me when I say that if you don’t understand electoral college politics and what that means for 2016, you’ll never understand why Presidential campaigns make the decisions they make. But whether you want to hear the deeper explanation or not, here’s the bottom line:
Of the 538 total electoral votes, it takes a majority, 270, to win. All the states except 2 award their electoral votes in a winner-take-all system, meaning that if a Party’s nominee gets 50-percent-plus-one, that nominee gets 100 percent of that state’s electoral votes.
The electoral votes of the states (plus D.C.) that have voted for the Democratic nominee for President from 1992 forward – the last six Presidential elections – totals 242. That’s only 28 electoral votes short of an election win. That list of states doesn’t include Florida, and Florida has 29 electoral votes. Florida alone puts the Democrat into the White House.
There are several other realistic combinations for the Democrat to win the Presidential election without winning Florida, but in a close November election in which reliable states do what they typically do, there is no likely mathematical way for the Republican to win without Florida.
It’s hard to imagine the Tea Party controlling the process – they’ve failed to do so twice already. It’s also impossible to ignore the Tea Party’s influence in the process – arguably no other lane of the current GOP electorate is wider. The Tea Party is openly antagonistic to Bush, and feels bruised by Rubio.
But unless the Tea Party wing wants to be at the wheel when the clown car drives off the cliff, Republicans cannot ignore the electoral math that places Florida as the most significant state in their mathematical equation.
A lot of political analysts are rolling their eyes at Rubio’s entrance into the race. Hillary Clinton announced Sunday, Rubio announced Monday, and the media just kept talking about Hillary into Tuesday. But I’m not rolling my eyes about Rubio, if only because of the math.
I can’t imagine the Tea Party wing supporting anybody named Bush. And I can’t imagine a propensity of a major political party’s primary voters ignoring the electability question – that they nominated two establishment guys in a row suggests that it has been part of their decision-making all along; there’s no reason to believe it won’t continue to be. But there can be no electability where there is no reasonable electoral vote math.
If Marco Rubio is smart enough to kiss and make up with Tea Party activists, without scaring the bejesus out of the rest of Republicanville, he might be in the hunt for the long haul. I don’t imagine there is a similar path available to Jeb Bush; Tea Party voters will probably never trust him. If Bush has a path to the nomination (and he well might), it is probably a different path.
And meanwhile, if Republican primary voters and caucus-goers ignore the electoral math equation and give no consideration to Florida’s special electoral math status, they’re already cooked and don’t even realize it.