A day after The Huffington Post reported former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts "will endorse" Republican Sen. Marco Rubio for president, Rubio personally shot the report down.
“Well, that report is false. I have no reason to believe that he's anywhere near endorsing anyone," Rubio told CNN on Feb. 21. "We would love to have his endorsement, but there's nothing forthcoming. I don't know where those reports are coming from, but they're false.”
Reporter Scott Conroy should be having a polite discussion with his sources right now about leaving him red-faced.
But if Romney were to endorse Rubio, would it make much of a difference in the GOP field?
Rubio remains a distant third in national polls, averaging less than one-half of Donald Trump's support in aggregated totals on Real Clear Politics. He's polling third in Texas, and 24 points behind Trump in Massachusetts.
At one point, it was looking like Rubio would be the establishment GOP choice, the man the party's elites and hard-liners would rally around to finally push Trump's campaign off the rails.
Rubio's poll numbers in a hypothetical general election match up against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looked promising, and the Florida senator is a more polished, traditional politician than Trump. All the signs looked good, and Rubio was gaining momentum in the polls.
Then Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey happened. Christie managed to make Rubio look like an android, capable of only repeating a few pre-recorded phrases, at the GOP's last debate before the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 6.
It was a cringe-worthy, made-for-YouTube moment -- Christie repeatedly hit Rubio on his inexperience and his tendency to repeat himself, while Rubio smiled awkwardly, trying to deflect the crowd's jeers. When Rubio couldn't muster a response besides repeating the same phrase, it raised serious questions about whether the Florida senator is prepared for the prime time of a general election debate.
Clinton isn't the deft political operator Christie is, but she's an experienced politician who does her homework. If Rubio couldn't muster an ounce of wit to counter Christie, how would he fare against Clinton or Sanders?
That disastrous debate performance was blamed for Rubio's disappointing, fifth-place New Hampshire finish, and it's been dogging him ever since.
As for Romney, although he was the GOP's nominee in the last presidential election, and won a respectable 47 percent of the popular vote, he's no elder statesman in the Republican party.
Support for Romney was tepid in 2012, with the Republican base holding its nose and pulling the lever for him more out of necessity than enthusiasm. Romney may have presidential qualities, and he was almost certainly the most qualified GOP candidate in terms of economic leadership experience, but he never appealed to the Republican base the way other candidates have. He was nominated because he was thought to be electable, not because he was likeable.
That had many wondering, in the few short hours before The Huffington Post story was refuted, if a Romney endorsement would be a net plus for Rubio, or a hindrance. One commenter on Politico called it a "death knell" for the Rubio campaign, while others openly mocked the apparent endorsement, joking about the handful of voters Romney would deliver for Rubio.
The truth is, no one can rescue Rubio besides Rubio. Time is running out, and while the Republican establishment would like nothing more than a "serious" candidate they can rally around in lieu of Trump, Rubio has missed his opportunities to prove he is that candidate.
So forget Romney. If Rubio wants to win, he needs to be quicker on his feet, better prepared at the podium, and confident enough to convince Republican voters that he's the conservative they need in 2016.