Will there be a GOP establishment candidate in the mix?

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio at a campaign rally in Manchester, N.H.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio at a campaign rally in Manchester, N.H.Jim Cole/AP

There's some criticism circulating about US Senator Marco Rubio's campaign: Despite all the buzz and his rise in polls, it isn't clear yet in which state he wins his first primary. This criticism, however, isn't fair, because every candidate running in the establishment lane has the same problem right now.

The conventional wisdom of the Republican presidential campaign right now is that there will eventually be three finalists by the March primaries: an outsider, a conservative, and an establishment candidate.

But what if the establishment lane candidate never makes it to the final?

When it comes to the establishment lane, most candidates are looking to New Hampshire for clues. Sure, if someone like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Ohio Governor John Kasich or Rubio wins the Granite State, then Republicans will likely have an establishment option in March.


But here's the current trajectory of the race: US Senator Ted Cruz has the momentum to win Iowa, and Donald Trump is on a similar path to win New Hampshire. After winning Iowa, Cruz could easily get the 17 or 18 percent he needs to get second place in New Hampshire. That leaves the establishment lane candidate getting, at best, third place.

Then it is off to South Carolina and Nevada, where Trump holds double-digit leads, and then a week later to the first Super Tuesday. Those contests most take place in the Deep South, where an establishment candidate will probably not do well.

Establishment candidates have two dates to circle on the calendar: Feb. 9, the date of the New Hampshire primary, and March 15, the date of the second set of Super Tuesday contests. The latter involves the winner-take-all contests of Florida, Illinois, North Carolina and Ohio.

But unless an establishment candidate does really well on Feb. 9, it is hard to see the argument they will have on March 15, even if they have the money to stay in the race.


James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell. Click here to subscribe to his daily e-mail update on the 2016 campaign.