Marco Rubio is down, but not out.
While the Florida senator and former Republican presidential candidate shut down his campaign in mid-March, he was careful about the language he used, saying he was "suspending" his campaign instead of ending it outright.
That semantic sleight of hand means two things: First, it's enabled Rubio to make a play to keep the 172 delegates he earned while he was an active candidate. Second, and perhaps more importantly for Rubio, it means his name isn't off the table if Republicans arrive in Cleveland for a brokered convention in July.
Rubio's play makes sense -- but mostly for him.
By keeping his delegates, Rubio is ensuring they're bound to vote for him in the first round of voting in a brokered convention. Because front-runner Donald Trump needs 1,237 delegates to secure the nomination, Rubio could play spoiler to Trump's campaign by preventing him from reaching that number.
That means Rubio the Loser could become Rubio the Kingmaker, and if the scenario plays out just right, the GOP and its elites would be indebted to the Florida senator for playing a pivotal role in defeating big, bad Trump. It would be a moment of redemption for Rubio, whose campaign ended in a humiliating whimper when he lost his home state to the real estate mogul by a wide margin.
But it's no coincidence that "ambitious" is the word most often used to describe Rubio, and if Trump falls short of the 1,237 delegates he needs, the Republican convention could be a free-for-all. As a March 30 story in Politico notes, members of the GOP's rules committee are already looking to scrap a rule that limits potential nominees to candidates who have won a majority of delegates in at least eight states.
That would enable the GOP to field names like Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican nominee, and House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who dropped out of the primary field in 2015, has also been named as an alternative to Trump, and some Republicans are pushing for former Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma to throw his hat in the ring. The latter two have been mentioned primarily as potential third-party nominees if Trump secures the Republican nomination, according to the New York Times.
Still, if guys like Romney, Ryan and Perry -- potential candidates who don't have a single delegate pledged to them -- can be added to the mix, Rubio's probably thinking, "Why not Rubio?"
Rubio might also be emboldened by the fact that, as much as Republican power brokers despise Donald Trump, they still haven't unified behind Ted Cruz, Trump's closest competitor. Sure, a handful of Republicans have grudgingly endorsed Cruz as a better alternative to Trump, but as the New York Times put it in a March 8 story, Cruz remains "one of the least popular senators on Capitol Hill" with few allies to speak of. Cruz has called majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell a liar, he's called his Republican colleagues a "Washington cartel," and he's made a career of angering Arizona senator -- and party elder -- John McCain.
At this point, Rubio has nothing to lose. He can't do any more damage to his reputation or future career in politics than he's already done with his campaign. He can't be blamed for helping to destroy the Republican party from within, since GOP insiders seem hell bent on doing that themselves. If Republicans are willing to disenfranchise millions of voters and destroy the democratic process to stop Trump, Rubio may as well capitalize.
In the HBO series "Game of Thrones," a show that thrives on Machiavellian maneuvering and cut-throat politics, the character Lord Petyr Baelish points out that chaos -- the kind of chaos that might come with a brokered convention -- is an opportunity.
"Chaos isn't a pit," Baelish says. "Chaos is a ladder."
After failing on the straight path to the presidency, perhaps Rubio has his eye on that ladder.