Their horse in this bizarre political year is Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Going into the Michigan primary on March 8, Trump led Rubio in the Sunshine State by double digits in most recent polls. That would appear to give comfort to Trump. It should instead give him a case of indigestion. (I've eaten fried gator, and I know).
If you don't believe me, ask former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. He won the Republican vote in the South Carolina primary in 2012. In my estimation, he would have defeated Barack Obama if he had won the GOP nomination. Gingrich was on a roll when he trounced Mitt Romney in South Carolina, but he came into the Florida primary just days later, with half-full campaign coffers.
Romney, licking his wounds from another loss to Gingrich in Iowa, came loaded to fight the bears -- make that the gators -- as he entered Florida. The gators snapped their jaws at him, brutally attacking him through TV ads in this media-saturated state. Gingrich never had a chance. In a matter of days, Romney and his super PACs had hit Gingrich with so many jabs, which translated into media rating points, that he never recovered.
And that brings us up to speed with the current contest for the GOP nomination. Trump has a head of steam that, in past years, would have demolished all money and support for his opponents. But look at the lopsidedness of Trump support; there are anti-Trump voters in the northern suburbs of Virginia, where lobbyists, government workers and other big-time politicos reside. It's no wonder that funds and endorsements for Rubio seem to grow every day.
If Trump plans to spend any campaign money on TV ads, he'd better do it fast. Ads airing in Florida are tougher than tough on him. They, too, snap like a Florida gator.
And, based on my many years of polling and opining in Florida, I can truthfully say that paid advertising moves voters in the state faster than any press conference or rally can.
To put it bluntly, Florida is the GOP establishment's true last stand against Trump. As I've written many times, where Florida goes, so goes the nation. And while Rubio trailed behind in recent Florida polls, he is known to Floridians as an often-underestimated comeback kid who emerges for victory at the last moment. If you don't believe me, call former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who lost his own Senate bid to Rubio.
This has become a battle, quite literally, for job assurance for thousands of the most connected and powerful people in the world. Trump has received no help from them and has made it clear he needs none. They will throw everything in the kitchen sink at him. Such political tactics have worked many times in Florida.
Then there is Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who gets no love from his GOP colleagues, but should be viewed as the lone true challenger to Trump. He has won three caucuses and stands solidly in second place for Republican delegates. In most other years Cruz would have been the lone winner in the Michigan primary. That is not the case in 2016.
Newt Gingrich correctly opined that Rubio and Cruz must fight one another for the right to take on Trump. He is spot on in his analysis. Indeed, Rubio's sharp attacks on Trump in the Houston GOP debate seemingly benefited Cruz more than than Rubio. So when the direct attack backfires, the better move is to lead the opponent into the swamp. The gators are waiting.