Five tough questions for Marco Rubio

Greg Nash

Marco RubioMarco RubioNew York Times endorses Rubio's rival Rubio: GOP Congress could go in different direction than Trump Poll: Clinton holds 4-point lead in Florida MORE’s presidential campaign is on life support after a terrible night in Tuesday’s primaries.

His home state of Florida’s winner-take-all contest on March 15 is shaping up as a last stand for the senator, who failed to earn a single delegate on Tuesday.

Few close to Rubio can be cheery about his prospects, and the candidate, an overwhelming favorite of the Republican establishment, is now facing some uncomfortable questions — starting with Florida’s primary.  

Should he stay in the race and fight it out in Florida?

If Rubio goes down to a humiliating defeat in Florida, some argue it could be curtains on his future political career.

Others say it would look nearly as bad to drop out before fighting in his home state.

Rubio’s campaign has put on a brave face, insisting he will take his campaign to Florida.

A conservative leader with strong ties to Rubio and the GOP donor community told The Hill in a telephone interview on Wednesday that the feeling within the Rubio camp is that if he drops out, he’ll hand Florida’s 99 delegates – and possibly the nomination – to Donald TrumpDonald TrumpClinton: Trump's election talk poses 'threat to our democracy' Clinton displays at Trump event raise eyebrows Clinton on Trump: 'I don’t even think about responding to him anymore' MORE

“He’s absolutely staying in through Florida,” the source said.

The source added that Rubio will keep on fighting if he pulls a surprise and wins his home state, where some polls show him trailing Trump by 20 points.

“If he loses Florida he will get out, which he should. But if he wins Florida he will stay in until the convention,” the source said.

How does Rubio handle Thursday’s debate in Miami?

In the last two debates, Rubio tangled with Trump in ways that took him miles away from his optimistic, generational message.

A number of Republican strategists believe that was a mistake that has hurt his campaign.

Stuart Stevens, the former chief strategist for Mitt Romney, says he hopes Rubio shifts before Thursday night in Miami.

“He’s talked about unifying the Republican Party, which he would, but nobody cares about the Republican Party,” says Stevens, who remains neutral in 2016 but opposes Trump’s candidacy.

Stevens believes the “great missing piece” for Rubio “is outlining what you would get with the Rubio presidency that you don’t get with anyone else… I mean dollars and cents, pocketbook.

“What’s the value proposition for the Rubio presidency? What does it mean for your stake in the world or your stake in jobs? That for me is what’s been missing,” he said.

If this isn’t Rubio’s time, how does he preserve his political future?

At the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, there was talk that Rubio should quit the presidential race before Florida.

If he lost his home state, people argued he could kiss goodbye any chance of winning Florida’s governorship — or running for the White House again.

The 'preserve-your-future' argument has been advocated by, among others, the conservative Iowa radio host and prominent Ted CruzTed CruzIs Georgia turning blue? Five takeaways from money race Club for Growth: Anti-Trump spending proved to be 'good call' MORE supporter, Steve Deace.

“If Marco Rubio doesn’t win his own state, not only is his race over, his career is over,” Deace told The Hill in an interview at CPAC last week. “If you gamble on Florida and even if you lose 51-49, you’re done... For Marco Rubio this is not just a two-week decision, this is a 20-year decision you’re making right now.”

Home-state defeats, however, haven’t always been curtains for a political life.

Richard Nixon, after losing his bid for the White House in 1960, lost a race for California’s governorship in 1962. Many thought his political career was over. Instead, six years later he was elected president.

How should Rubio handle Trump?

Rubio’s insults of Trump seemed to help Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich while hurting his own presidential bid. And they appeared to do little to slow Trump.

Should he continue his “Don Rickles” act, as Trump labeled it this week? Or should he change his tune?

The Florida Senator’s shifting emphasis from the “New American Century” to questioning the billionaire’s hand size and fake tan may have done his previously high-minded campaign more harm than good.

Rubio needs to decide whether he will continue tackling Trump on the billionaire’s preferred terrain or whether he will revert to a policy-based discussion and avoid the politics of personal insults.

If Rubio gets out, who should he endorse?

Conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin – who is a fan of Rubio’s – published a column Wednesday titled, “Sorry, Marco Rubio, it's time to fold.”

In it, she advises the Florida Senator to drop out of the presidential race before Mar. 15 and cut a deal with Cruz to become his VP pick.

“Right now — until March 15 — you have remarkable leverage,” Rubin writes in what she frames as a message of advice from somebody who cares.

“You can endorse Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), asking that your roughly 150 delegates (more than enough to put him in the lead) vote for him, and likely get the vice presidential spot. Such a move would be an act of true statesmanship, forever banishing the image of a callow young man.”

Deace, a Cruz supporter, made a similar statement in his interview with The Hill at CPAC. “If I were advising Marco Rubio, here’s what I would tell him,” he said. “‘You’ll never have more leverage with Ted Cruz than you have right now. Drop out. Cut your deal now’…”

But there is no evidence that the Rubio-cuts-deal-with-Cruz scenario is anything more than a fantasy at this point.

In fact, Alex Conant, Rubio's communications director, in an email to The Hill said it is something that hasn't even been considered.