Marco Rubio 'Won' South Carolina Tonight. It Was Actually His Worst Loss Yet.

Trump will win most -- and likely all -- of the state's delegates.

02/20/2016 08:39 pm ET | Updated Feb 20, 2016
  • Nick Baumann Senior Enterprise Editor, The Huffington Post

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has never won a presidential primary. That didn't change on Saturday, when Rubio lost the South Carolina Republican primary, finishing behind angry rich guy Donald Trump for the third time this primary season.

When Rubio finished third in Iowa, his campaign -- and many members of the media -- acted as if he had won. His fifth-place finish in New Hampshire made that spin even harder to believe. Just a few weeks ago, Rubio's campaign was telling reporters he'd finish second in New Hampshire and first in South Carolina.

Now Rubio has lost again. But his campaign was painting him as the "real" victor even before polls closed: 

Here's the truth: Although the primaries are far from over, Rubio faces an uphill battle to secure the nomination, and Saturday night's loss was his worst yet.

Here's why. As my colleague Janie Velencia explained on Friday, Republican primary voters don't directly elect their presidential nominee. (Neither do Democrats, but that's another story.) Instead, they elect delegates, who will pick the nominee at the Republican National Convention in July.

Iowa and New Hampshire award delegates proportionately based on the percentage of the vote each candidate receives. So despite losing those states, Rubio got some delegates: seven in Iowa and three in New Hampshire. (Donald Trump has 17 delegates; Sen. Ted Cruz has 11, just ahead of Rubio's 10.)

But South Carolina awards all of its delegates to the statewide winner and the winner of each congressional district. The statewide winner gets 29 delegates; the candidates who finish second and third statewide get nothing. Zero. Zilch. The winner of each congressional district gets three delegates. Second- and third-place finishers get nothing except a scolding by Gene Wilder:

If Rubio doesn't win in any of South Carolina's seven congressional districts -- and the early returns suggest Trump will win all of them -- he'll get zero delegates. Even if Rubio pulls out a win in a congressional district -- or two -- Trump will win the vast majority of the state's 50 delegates. 

So what's Rubio hoping for? Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush suspended his campaign Saturday night. But there's no evidence that enough of his voters will go to Rubio to allow Rubio to finish ahead of Cruz, let alone Trump.

Breitbart's Ben Shapiro has another theory about Rubio's plan:

Shapiro is referencing the Underpants Gnomes, characters on the television show "South Park" who had a bizarre and somewhat unrealistic business plan:

South Park

It's a joke, but Shapiro's right: If Rubio wants to be the Republican nominee, the senator really needs to figure out what his plan is. Because right now, Trump is winning. 

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