Rubio Campaign Telling Donors It’s Preparing For A Brokered Convention

Bizarrely, the Marco Rubio campaign seems to be telling donors that their candidate may have to hope for a brokered convention to win the GOP nomination.

GOP Convention

Marco Rubio’s campaign is reportedly telling donors that they are preparing for a contested Republican National Convention as part of their strategy to wrest the Republican nomination from either Ted Cruz or Donald Trump:

Marco Rubio’s campaign is preparing for a contested Republican Convention as one option to take the GOP nomination away from Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, his campaign manager told top donors at a closed-door meeting in Manhattan Wednesday night.

As Rubio scrambles for support ahead of Super Tuesday, Terry Sullivan, Rubio’s top adviser, used a Power Point presentation and took questions from attendees to lay out the two courses that Rubio’s quest for the GOP nomination could take in the coming months, two people present told CNN, speaking anonymously to share details from a private meeting.

The first showed the number of states and delegates Rubio would need to clinch the nomination outright before July’s convention. The second was the scenario in which none of the candidates gain the simple majority delegates needed to clinch the nomination before the convention, unleashing a messy and potentially unpredictable battle where multiple candidates are vying for the title.

The meeting comes as Rubio is trying to lock up the support of establishment Republicans looking for an alternative to Trump and Cruz. The Rubio campaign needs to convince donors and GOP power brokers that it has a true path to victory. Trump is heading into Super Tuesday as the undisputed GOP front-runner, having won New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, and Rubio has not yet won a state.

Sullivan has acknowledged in the past that a brokered convention might be hypothetically possible, but Wednesday’s comments are a concrete indication that the campaign is preparing for such an outcome.

Sullivan gave a “technical” explanation of how a contested or brokered convention would work. According to the sources in the room, the gathering appeared to be a matter-of-fact recognition by the Rubio campaign that a contested convention is very much a possibility.

“One is somebody — Trump or Rubio — wins enough primaries to sew up the nomination in advance of the convention,” one attendee said. “The other is that nobody does, and the two candidates go to the convention.”

On how Rubio could get the nomination before the convention, Sullivan discussed the possibilities of John Kasich and Ben Carson dropping out, that attendee also said.

Rubio spokesman Alex Conant declined to comment. Sullivan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sullivan also expressed confidence that Rubio would win the Florida primary, two attendees said, despite polling showing Rubio trailing Trump in his home state.


Coming just days after Bush abandoned his White House bid, one question from these donors and potential bundlers — not all of whom had decided to back Rubio — was whether the Rubio team could reassure them that their money and time would not once again go to waste, according to one attendee.

Not surprisingly, this report, along with the fact that the Republican race is currently at a point where it is at least theoretically possible that nobody will end up with a majority of delegates when the Republican National Convention convenes in Cleveland in July is reviving the seemingly perennial fantasy among political pundits and others of a “brokered convention” in which a party nominee is not selected on the first ballot and the party is required to enter some phase of bargaining among the powers that be to determine who the nominee will be. It’s the kind of thing that made for great television during the last episode of the penultimate season of The West Wing, and which we’ve written about here at Outside The Beltway several times over the years — see here, here, here, here,here, here, here, and here. Talk of a brokered convention was renewed near the end of last year when The Washington Post reported that Republican Party officials were preparing for the possibility that no candidate would have a majority of delegates when the convention convenes in July, but as I noted at the time that report was far less than meets the eye since all it was really saying was that the Republican National Committee was developing a contingency plan for the possibility of a brokered convention, something that would seem to be prudent in any case since it’s never clear in any given year how the race for the nomination will turn out and having a contingency plan ready to go makes sense. This didn’t mean then, of course, that the RNC thought that a brokered convention was a significant possibility, and now that voting has actually started it seems obvious that “brokered convention” talk is, once again, most likely a fantasy.

Whether or not a brokered convention is a possibility is a matter of looking at how delegates are allocated and who is realistically likely to win delegates going forward. As it stands only three candidates, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, are likely to win anything other than one or two delegates in any of the contests between now and March 15th when states will no longer be required by RNC rules to award delegates on a proportional basis. After March 15th, the vast majority of the delegate-rich states where candidates will compete will be winner-take-all, meaning that only the candidate who wins will get any delegates. Given the fact that Rubio has not won a single race so far, then, and that he even trails in his home state of Florida, it seems unlikely that he is going to start winning those winner-take-all states unless there is a significant change in the momentum of the race. Instead, it’s likely that most of those states will end up continuing to fall into Donald Trump’s column. Moreover, if Rubio fails to do well on Super Tuesday and fails to win in Florida, it’s doubtful that his donors will stay with him for very long, meaning that his campaign likely would not survive much past March 15th to begin with. Even if it did, though, the idea that Rubio could somehow pull off a surprise win at a brokered convention is unlikely. First of all, in order to do that he’d have to stay in the race to do that and that’s not likely at all unless he starts winning primaries somewhere. Second, pursuant to Rule 40(b) of the RNC Rules, a candidate must have a clear majority of delegates in at least eight states in order to have their name placed on the ballot for the nomination. As of this moment, only one candidate is close to meeting that minimum threshold, and Rubio doesn’t seem likely to get there over the next three weeks when he faces what is likely to be his do-or-die. In other words, it’s not at all clear that Marco Rubio would even be a player in a convention even if the extremely unlikely “brokered convention” scenario did play out.

What’s even more odd is that Rubio’s campaign seems to be pitching the idea of a brokered convention to donors and potential donors as the most viable manner in which their candidate could become the Republican Presidential Nominee. Given the fact that it’s still so early in the process and that the vast majority of delegates remain to be chosen, it’s certainly odd to be asking donors to focus on the remote possibility of something that hasn’t happened in American politics in sixty years, and something that has not happened since both political parties started selecting the majority of delegates to their respective National Conventions via primaries and caucuses in 1968. Why on Earth would you make this kind of pitch to donors who are clearly looking to be parsimonious with their money after having been burned by a Bush campaign that never lived up to its promises? If I were a potential donor and this is the pitch a campaign was selling to me, I’d be walking out the door and holding on to my wallet because it would seem apparent that even the candidate doesn’t seem to think he has a realistic chance of winning the nomination outright. If that’s the state the Rubio campaign is in at this point, then he’s in even worse shape then I thought and the odds that Trump will be able to march to the nomination virtually unscathed are even higher than I thought.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Ron Beasley says:

    A brokered convention would be a disaster for the GOP. If Trump comes into the convention with many more delegates than anyone else, probable, and is denied the nomination it will further tear the party apart.

  2. grumpy realist says:

    Um, isn’t this along the lines of “I expect that all my opponents get killed by meteorite strikes” level of wishful thinking?

    How in the HELL does Rubio expect to accumulate delegates to the point where a brokered convention is even possible, given that we’re coming up on a string of “winner-take-all” states and his present support levels in them?

    Or is he thinking of some weird Machiavellian deus ex machina where Trump and Cruz split the votes, it goes to a brokered convention, and the Republican Party elders pick Rubio because “he’s the most electable”?

    If so, I want some of what he’s smoking….

  3. gVOR08 says:

    What other credible plan can he present?

    In his favor, he’s a perfect establishment candidate; personable, photogenic, and dumb enough to be easily handled should he be elected.

  4. Rubio is pitching the brokered convention line because he knows quite well that it’s the only hope he realistically has left. Love Trump or hate him, if you look at how the primary has gone so far and look at the polls for Super Tuesday it’s pretty hard to conclude anything other than that this race is very nearly wrapped up and over. If the front runner were named anything but “Trump,” the media would already be reporting it that way – as they did in 2012 and 2008 when the front runners were nowhere near as far out ahead as Trump is at this point.

    As I’ve noted before several times on my own blog, the delegate math is simple: as long as he’s winning Trump can win a majority of delegates even if his poll numbers never cross over 30%. Given that he’s routinely hitting the mid 30s and pushing into the 40s in some states, and given that he continues to be the candidate who wins the pluralities, the chances of another candidate winning a majority of delegates are basically so close to zero at this point as to make no difference. But more importantly for the brokered convention narrative, even denying trump an outright majority of delegates is, at this point, extremely unlikely.

    Don’t believe me? Hit the Real Clear Politics GOP delegate simulator and start punching in numbers. It’s all about the delegate math, plain and simple. The campaigns know this full well, which is why they’re starting to push the brokered convention narrative. They know – they absolutely know at this point – that barring a miracle they’re not going to win outright. It’s an act of desperation.

    The ONLY way Cruz or Rubio beats Trump – or even denies him a majority – is for a MAJOR shift in the polls between now and March 15th. While theoretically possible, that kind of shift is pretty unlikely this late in the game. It would be literally unprecedented in terms of the GOP presidential primary.

    Rubio and Cruz may actually be out of the race as soon as next Wednesday. If not by then, they’ll be out by the 16th of March

  5. PJ says:

    Rubio sure is exuding confidence!

  6. al-Ameda says:


    In his favor, he’s a perfect establishment candidate; personable, photogenic, and dumb enough to be easily handled should he be elected.

    Dan Quayle couldn’t have said it any better.

    This campaign has surprised bme in a lot of ways – (1) Jeb Bush was a lot less capable on the campaign trail than I imagined him to be, (2) Cruz is more greasy than I imagined him to be, and (3) I didn’t realize that Rubio was so … so … light.

  7. Pch101 says:

    @grumpy realist:

    How in the HELL does Rubio expect to accumulate delegates to the point where a brokered convention is even possible, given that we’re coming up on a string of “winner-take-all” states and his present support levels in them?

    If no one has a majority of delegates going into the convention, then it will be brokered. After the first vote, most delegates become “unbound” (they can vote for anyone.)

    It isn’t necessary to beat Trump, but just to keep him under 50%.

  8. gVOR08 says:

    @al-Ameda: 1) yeah. 2) we knew Cruz was a self absorbed slimeball, but you’d think a career politician could hide it better. 3) yeah. And I’d add 4) Trump. I did not think he could keep up the pretense of being a Tea Party type this long without slipping up. Now he’s their guy. He’s a made man, they’ll forgive him almost anything. He’s right, he could shoot people on 5th Ave in daylight on camera and they’d be OK with it. Nothing short of a dead naked woman or a live naked boy would hurt him with the base. And neither is a certainty.

  9. Jen says:

    This has to be a nightmare scenario for pretty much everyone at the RNC. In order for Rubio to prevail at a contested convention, the RNC would have to change the “majority of delegates in 8 states” requirement when they meet before the convention starts. If that doesn’t convey the message of party insiders pulling the strings I don’t know what would. Trump’s supporters would lose it, the base would be irate, and I’d have to think a substantial chunk of them would stay home. I don’t think Trump would have the time to pull together an Independent run at that stage, would he? (I can’t remember what deadlines are for Independent parties to get on state ballots.) That said, he’s got sufficient name ID for a write-in candidacy that would, like the rest of his campaign, defy the odds.

    Watching the current polling numbers, this just seems to be an out-of-thin-air scenario for Rubio.

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    and now that voting has actually started it seems obvious that “brokered convention” talk is, once again, most likely a fantasy.

    These are Republicans we’re talking about, what did you expect? Next thing they’ll be saying is that Donald Trump’s victory over the GOP has nothing at all to do with the racist, xenophobic base of the GOP.

  11. Kylopod says:

    Not a good sign for him. Planning for a brokered convention is usually the mark of a failing candidate; it’s sort of the primary-season equivalent of invoking “Dewey Defeats Truman” in the general election.

  12. Gustopher says:

    As of this moment, I have won as many states as Rubio has.

    He has a few more delegates than I do, but we will be moving into the Winner Takes All states pretty soon, so unless he turns things around or Trump collapses, he’s not going to have many more delegates going into the convention than I do.

  13. Franklin says:

    I don’t really have a problem with planning for all contingencies.

  14. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Franklin: It would help if these plans were based on real world math tho, but again, we’re talking about the GOP, the party of “Dynamic!!!” scoring.

  15. Jen says:

    Well, the good news is Christie just endorsed Trump…so, that’ll lock things up. No need to worry about a contested convention now.

  16. J-Dub says:

    @Jen: Well, in Christie’s defense, he is going to need a job soon.

  17. Kylopod says:

    @J-Dub: It also makes perfect sense that after trashing Rubio for being a first-term Senator rather than a governor, he’d go for a man with zero political experience over the last governor remaining in the race, Kasich, who is also closer ideologically to Christie than Trump is. I guess it’s not smart to back a loser.

  18. Grewgills says:


    I don’t think Trump would have the time to pull together an Independent run at that stage, would he? (I can’t remember what deadlines are for Independent parties to get on state ballots.)

    I was having a discussion about this the other day and looked that up*. 14 states have deadlines before a brokered convention would be over. Another 12 states have deadlines on Aug 1 or 2, so it would be next to impossible to get on their ballots unless he had the petition drives set up ahead of the convention. The rest of the states have deadlines from Aug 10 to Sept 9, so he could probably get on those ballots.
    Colorado, Ohio, Virginia, and a number of reliably red southern states have later registration dates for him to make considerable mischief for the GOP nominee if he feels like it. He could be petulant enough to try if he feels he has been cheated.
    It doesn’t seem all that likely that he won’t get a majority by the convention, but one can hope.

    * about half way down page

  19. Pch101 says:

    Based upon math presented by Chris Cilizza, a Kasich win in the Ohio primary would deny Trump the majority needed to avoid a brokered convention.

    The latest Quinnipiac poll puts Trump over Kasich by 5 points, with a 3.6% margin of error, so they’re pretty close. So watch Ohio – it may determine the fate of the Republican convention.

  20. gVOR08 says:

    @Pch101: Oh jeebuz. I live there. Do I cross over in the OH primary to rat frack the GOPs? And if I do, do I cause more trouble voting for Trump or Kasich? Decisions. Decisions. I think I may cast my first vote ever for Kasich.

  21. Pch101 says:


    Definitely vote for Kasich, as often as possible.

  22. Anonne says:

    lol. It won’t get to a brokered convention at this rate. Trump is outpacing Rubio and Cruz by a factor of 5 because he’s won more contests, and is on track to win bigger. Texas may go for Cruz but that may be Cruz’ last victory. Kasich is even lagging in Ohio. No, Trump is going to win.

  23. @Pch101: Do you have a link? Because I’ve done a lot of delegate math myself, and unless Rubio or Cruz start’s actually winning something, I don’t see how that works out.

  24. Paul Hooson says:

    Rubio is being overly optimistic here. Trump is more than likely to win every Super Tuesday state except Texas, which Cruz should carry. Rubio may score a number of far second place finishes behind Trump. And Kasich loses his native Ohio. It should be difficult for Rubio, Kasich and even Cruz to stay in the race after these stinging round of losses to Trump, where the funding to all three will really dry up and all three will be pressured to quit the race and accept Trump as the GOP nominee.

    My best guess is that Kasich quits, but Cruz attempts to stay in the race. Rubio may quit, leaving a one on one race for another week or two between Cruz and Trump, which Cruz will lose and be out very soon.

  25. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @al-Ameda: The Rubio/Quayle connection reminded me of something that Jack Germond said about Dan Quayle (and seems to fit Rubio):

    He’s so light that he can tap dance on a Charlotte Russe.