Somewhat conservatives are like investors: when panic happens, they flock to the stability of the 30-year bond. Rubio is clearly aiming to position himself to be the GOP’s T-bill, a stable, conservative choice for voters who like that balance between return (ideology) and minimal risk (maturity, experience). Rubio won’t go after moderates directly, but he will position himself to be the beneficiary of their second choice support once their first choices drop out. Thirty percent of moderates in the most recent PPP national poll support either Bush, Christie, Fiorina, or Kaisch. It’s hard to see any of these candidates reviving their campaigns, and it is even harder to see the bulk of their supporters moving to Cruz or Trump if the race winnows down to a three-man race by March 1. If this happens, it will fuel a quick rise in Rubio support, support that could allow him to jump past Trump and become Cruz’s main challenger on and after SEC Super Tuesday.
There’s a lot of time left, and Rubio’s competitors are smart and able men. Perhaps they will push Rubio to make an error; perhaps they will adapt their efforts to become more appealing to the somewhat conservative. This, after all, is why they play the games. But right now, the trend lines favor Rubio.