The ranks of those who have any doubt about the outcome of the Republican presidential race got a bit thinner yesterday when Senator Marco Rubio endorsed Mitt Romney. The Tea Party favorite’s backing of Romney is yet another sign that even hard-core conservative Republicans have come to the conclusion the only way to win in November is to close ranks behind the frontrunner. With Rick Santorum looking at almost certain defeat in the next round of primaries to be held next week and Newt Gingrich having basically thrown in the towel, the prospect of Romney as the GOP nominee has now gone from being likely to almost certain.
Rubio’s endorsement, along with recent comments from other Senate conservative stalwarts like Jim DeMint and Pat Toomey vouching for Romney’s bona fides, should help ease the way for the rest of their party’s right-wing to start coming back in from the ledge onto which they had walked during the winter. As many on the right have spent much of the last year speaking of Romney in the most harsh terms, it’s not going to be easy for them to walk back the charge that he is indistinguishable from President Obama and a certain loser in November. But as is always the case in politics, once the bandwagon starts rolling, it gets easier to hop on. But even as he formally put himself behind Romney, Rubio also continued to discourage talk of the vice presidency.
Twice on Wednesday, Rubio characterized the notion of his being nominated for the vice presidency as something “that’s not going to happen.” The manner in which he said this went way beyond the usual attempt of potential veep candidates to deflect attention from their obvious desire to be picked. Listening to him both on the Sean Hannity show (where he made his endorsement of Romney) and with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC, you got the feeling Rubio meant it when he said he had no intention of leaving the Senate.
Yet, it must also be understood that Rubio’s comments stopped well short of a Shermanesque refusal to serve under any circumstances. And given the fact that he has attempted to get out ahead of the various smears that have been circulating in the blogosphere, there is still reason to think a Rubio vice presidential nomination is a possibility. There is also the fact that by getting behind Romney while there is still some value to be had from such endorsements, Rubio has, whether he likes it or not, increased speculation about his future.
But whether Rubio is serious about not wanting the vice presidency or not, his endorsement is just one more reason for Republicans to believe the endgame of the nomination battle is at hand. Though Rick Santorum can still talk about winning primaries in May and Romney’s delegate math not adding up, with leading conservatives now conceding the race is over, it’s going to be harder for any challenger to maintain any momentum. Though Santorum will continue to try to sow doubt about Romney in the upcoming weeks, the inevitability factor is now at the point where it has become a serious impediment to his hopes to win any primary, including his home state of Pennsylvania.