On Feb. 21, a day after Jeb Bush ended his bid for the GOP presidential nomination, it seemed as though the highest-ranking members of the Republican Party had finally found a reason to coalesce around one of its candidates. Until then, only 138 of the party’s 331 governors, U.S. senators and U.S. representatives had endorsed a candidate. Then, on Feb. 21, five representatives and a senator endorsed Marco Rubio. The next day was even bigger for Rubio, as he picked up endorsements from four more senators, a governor and five representatives. By the end of the week, he’d added a total of 20 new endorsements.
Two and a half weeks later, Rubio dropped out of the race.
With fewer options — there are only three candidates left in the race — one might expect Republican leaders to decide, finally, which candidate is their best bet and give him their endorsement. That hasn’t happened: In the month before he suspended his campaign, Rubio won the support of 30 national elected officials; in the month since, the remaining three candidates have picked up the support of only 18. Less than two months from the final primaries, most Republican elites are still on the sidelines, and at a higher level than in any election since at least 1980.
In the table below, for each presidential primary election since 1980 (without an incumbent president running), I’ve listed the percentage of available endorsement points1 awarded to the candidates still running at this point in the race:2
|YEAR||PARTY||SHARE OF POINTS AWARDED TO REMAINING CANDIDATES|
While this is far from the only election in which the majority of points have gone unawarded by now,3 it is, by this measure, the one with the least participation from the party’s top elected officials.
Barring a large shift in voting patterns, it seems unlikely that there will be a point in the race — at least before primary voting is over — that the party’s leaders will be moved to support one of the candidates. Donald Trump, the front-runner, is unpopular and says the Republican National Committee doesn’t want him to be the nominee. Ted Cruz has picked up a handful of endorsements in the past few weeks, but several of those have been given only grudgingly. And John Kasich has had trouble getting endorsements even from people who support him.
Republican elites’ failure to pick a preferred nominee is, to say the least, unusual. Typically, GOP officials have rallied behind a candidate by now:
But in a race with so much uncertainty, Republican leaders might see staying quiet as a safer bet than publicly supporting a candidate.