February should not have been a good month for Marco Rubio. There have been three primaries and caucuses and Rubio has lost them all. His best showing was a second place finish in South Carolina, where he lost to Trump by ten points and netted zero delegates. He’s widely expected to lose badly to Trump again on Tuesday night in Nevada’s GOP caucus.
But if you thought all of this losing would blunt Rubio’s chances to win the Republican nomination, you’d apparently be mistaken. Despite the vote totals, nearly every day in February major media outlets have touted Rubio’s “momentum.”
The coverage reflects strongly held beliefs in the media about how presidential nominees are chosen. Rubio, particularly after Jeb Bush dropped out, is the overwhelming leader in endorsements from prominent figures in the Republican Party. He is also viewed as more “serious” among pundits and experienced operatives. Therefore, he must win — and in the absence of actual victories, the way to reflect the belief that Rubio will ultimately be the winner is to tout his momentum toward future victories.
Every election is different, and there is no evidence thus far that historical trends will hold in 2016. Nonetheless, here is a sampling of the glowing coverage about Rubio this month.
February 1: “Rubio off to New Hampshire with wind at his back” — Politico
February 2: “Rubio Hopes to Ride Iowa Momentum to Future Victories” — NBC News
February 3: “Rubio campaign looks to capitalize on Iowa momentum” — CNN
— NBC News (@NBCNews) February 4, 2016
February 5: “CAMPAIGN 2016; An effort to slow Rubio’s momentum” — Los Angeles Times
February 6: “Rubio gains momentum as Texas presidential primary vote approaches” — Star-Telegram
February 7: “Christie and Bush work to stop Rubio’s momentum” — FOX
February 9: “Can Marco Rubio continue his ground momentum in NH?” — CNN
[ED NOTE: Rubio’s momentum appears to take a brief pause here following a disastrous debate performance and the candidate chipping his tooth on a frozen Twix bar.]
Cruz is being overshadowed in this debate, surprisingly. Jeb excelling, Rubio getting momentum back.
— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) February 14, 2016
February 14: “Rubio scores comeback debate performance in South Carolina” — Tampa Bay Times
February 17: “Why Nevada could be the state where Marco Rubio’s campaign really takes off” — The Guardian
— WSJ Think Tank (@WSJThinkTank) February 18, 2016
February 20: “Marco Rubio recovers his momentum in South Carolina — but can he carry it forward to Nevada?” — The Atlantic
I usually don't buy into crowd size as mark of momentum, but this Nashville crowd is biggest for Marco Rubio I've ever seen.
— Steve Peoples (@sppeoples) February 21, 2016
February 23: “Rubio builds momentum, Cruz campaign shows signs of struggle” — AP
It is still possible, of course, for Rubio to capture the nomination. But the polls in upcoming states do not look good.
Eleven states vote on March 1. Polling shows Trump leading in Georgia, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Alabama, Virginia, Alaska and Vermont. Ted Cruz leads in his home state of Texas and Arkansas.
A single poll, taken in January, shows Rubio leading by two points in Minnesota. It sounds like another opportunity for Rubio to gain momentum.