It’s Donald Trump or it’s a contested convention. Thanks to Super Tuesday and Marco Rubio’s gross inability to connect with voters, there is no third possibility.
It appears Cruz will thoroughly beat expectations. More on him in a second. The night’s big disappointment is clearly Marco Rubio, who fell painfully short of 20 percent thresholds in a few states and didn’t get accompanying state-wide delegates because of it. Only a few more well-distributed percentage points and he would have added a couple dozen delegates, mostly hurting Cruz in the process.
Frankly, I’m getting tired of waiting for Rubio to convert his potential energy into something more kinetic. His pitch is getting tired and as baseless as it is shrill. I’m sure he’s totally frustrated that Cruz and Kasich aren’t dropping out, but why should they? Maybe HE should drop out! Cruz has won a few states and is still the favorite of archconservatives, and Kasich is playing to moderates, especially in the northeast. Who is Rubio winning? Senators? Postgraduates? Not exactly a populous coalition.
I mean, take a look at how the five candidates ranked across yesterday’s states. Take a particularly close look at Rubio’s column:
There were 11 states that allocated delegates last night. Rubio came in third in eight of them. That’s a terrible job by someone who claims to be the Trump alternative.
Indeed, with Cruz and Rubio making pitches to be the last candidate standing in Trump’s way, Rubio’s case looks weaker by the day. Who has the better argument? Cruz has won three states to Rubio’s one, and he has significantly more delegates than Rubio. Furthermore, in the 15 states of this primary, he has finished ahead of Rubio more often than not. You can’t fault Cruz for thinking he is the candidate around which anti-Trumpers should rally.
That being said, looking forward, it’s hard to see many places Cruz will continue his success. Cruz’s states have been almost totally milked, with only Kansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi remaining in his wheelhouse. Conversely, Rubio’s long-game strategy, thanks to sizable northern and west coast states, has considerably more upside. Rubio will outstrip Cruz within a month’s time.
That is, if Rubio even stays in. Everyone should circle March 15, which includes Florida’s winner-take-all primary of 99 delegates, as Rubio’s last stand. The scuttlebutt was that if Rubio had no wins heading into his home state, he’d have dropped out before Florida to save the embarrassment and keep alive his political future. However, Minnesota bailed him out, and now a win in the Sunshine State could spring him into the summer.
With that in mind, Rubio went to Miami last night to give his thousandth “I totally lost but let’s pretend like I won!” speech. He nodded to Florida’s Latinos through speaking some Spanish, playing their music, and calling out some of their countries of heritage by name. He stood firmly with the state of Israel, contrasting that stance with Trump’s, in an effort win over Florida’s sizable Jewish population. He’ll try to remind Floridians why they elected him in the first place. One could make the case that Rubio, in an effort to win all 99 of its delegates, should spend every day between now and March 15 in Florida. Couple that with a similar Kasich strategy in his home state of Ohio (66 winner-take-all delegates) which also votes on March 15, and the establishment could finally have its long-awaited momentum swing and a chance to force a convention against Trump.
Again, that’s all it can hope for. It’s Trump or chaos, and it’s hard to say which of those can be more easily controlled. (Some might even call them synonymous.) It’s not an impossible hope, though. Trump only won 34 percent of Republican votes last night, which is almost exactly how much he had won in February. (The incomparable GreenPapers has him at 34.16 percent for the primary.) In other words, nearly two-thirds of Republicans are still voting against him despite his early success, and many party leaders have not been shy about their skepticism toward his candidacy. The establishment and other voters might come around, but they haven’t yet.
After the Super Tuesdays of Romney and McCain (in which they cleared 40 percent of the vote), the party fell in line. It hasn’t done that this time. This time is different. The argument can still be made that most Republicans do not want him to be president, which, if that continues, is exactly what a convention is supposed to settle. Presidential primaries don’t have run-off elections in the case of someone not reaching a majority. They have delegates who hash it out. The people’s champion can still be denied.
Thus, the goal for Trump’s rivals is no longer to win this thing outright, but to block Trump from getting to 1,237 delegates through the primary process. (Get ready to hearing that number a LOT in the coming weeks.) That could change the strategy for candidates moving forward; we can’t rule out the Rubio and Kasich campaigns coordinating where they target their resources (which could foreshadow a more official alliance if this process does reach July). While they do that, Cruz could also focus on the remaining Midwest and Southern states to limit Trump’s delegate totals there.
I know it feels over, but if you squint and tilt your head just right, we can still see our dream come true. (I do not, however, deny that this is wishful thinking.)
Here is the upcoming Republican Primary Schedule, including each contest’s pledged delegate number. (Some of these states donated their three unpledged RNC delegates to the pledged delegate total. Some might still do it.) The following contests take place between this Saturday and next Saturday:
|March 5, 2016||Kansas||40|
|March 5, 2016||Kentucky||42|
|March 5, 2016||Louisiana||44|
|March 5, 2016||Maine||23|
|March 6, 2016||Puerto Rico||20|
|March 8, 2016||Hawaii||16|
|March 8, 2016||Idaho||32|
|March 8, 2016||Michigan||59|
|March 8, 2016||Mississippi||37|
|March 12, 2016||Guam||Undetermined (0-9)|
|March 12, 2016||Washington, D.C.||19|
Those are all the states between now and big March 15, seen below:
|March 15, 2016||Florida||99|
|March 15, 2016||Illinois||69|
|March 15, 2016||Missouri||52|
|March 15, 2016||North Carolina||52|
|March 15, 2016||Northern Mariana Islands||9|
|March 15, 2016||Ohio||66|
And that’s when states can start being winner-take-all. If Trump doesn’t dominate . . . beware the Ides of March.