The GOP establishment will try to pull the strings.
Marco Rubio’s exit from the Republican primary on Tuesday night raised for the first time, in a serious way, the question of what happens to the delegates pledged to a candidate who’s no longer in the race.
The 164 delegates Rubio racked up during his campaign could become the focus of a tug-of-war between the remaining candidates at a contested convention in July. But as with so much in the 2016 primary, it’s complicated: While those delegates can be courted by the remaining candidates at any point — Bloomberg’s Sasha Issenberg outlined how that fight will unfold, state by state, over the next several months — state party rules vary on when they become free to cast their votes for somebody aside from Rubio, even if he isn’t officially nominated in Cleveland.
Broadly speaking, there are three tiers of delegates: those freed immediately upon a Rubio’s withdrawal from the race; those freed after a certain number of ballots at the national convention; and those freed once Rubio officially releases them, which could conceivably never happen.