What a difference a week makes.
Popular narrative heading into the week of February 29 said that Donald Trump was dominating and would have a great SEC Primary, potentially becoming an unstoppable force. The narrative said that anti-Trumpers’ best hope was for John Kasich, a total afterthought in the delegate count, to drop out so Marco Rubio, who had just beaten Ted Cruz in consecutive states, could come back with the big, moderate, winner-take-all states down the stretch, unless Trump put it out of reach early.
Then the week happened. Trump did fine on Super Tuesday, but Cruz picked up momentum with three states while Rubio only scratched out one. Rubio started a nosedive that continued with Thursday’s childish debate performance, but this performance also coaxed Trump into debasing himself to unprecedented levels. Cruz skewered Trump on his record, particularly his dubious history supporting Democrats, while Kasich came off relatively well by being “the adult in the room.” That same day, Mitt Romney tried to coordinate all anti-Trump supporters to extend the process at all costs.
The week culminated last night, where Cruz proved his momentum was very real. He split yesterday’s four states with Trump, taking Kansas by 25 point and Maine by 13. Meanwhile, as expected, Trump won Kentucky and Louisiana, but by only 4 points a piece over Cruz, who joined Trump with four top-two finishes on the day. Rubio’s collapse continued and he’s now questionable to even reach March 15’s Florida Primary, where he might get embarrassed in his home state. Meanwhile, Kasich rose to beat Rubio in one state and challenge him for third in another. Plus, as the afternoon’s Kansas results showed Cruz walloping Trump, an American Research Group poll out of Michigan had John Kasich — yes, that John Kasich — leading Trump (33-31) in the sizable state, which has its primary this Tuesday.
These developments not only meant Trump’s runaway momentum was getting challenged by Cruz, but we also might be in the midst of a transition of the great establishment hope. In the fall, Rubio inherited the title from Jeb Bush. Now, he’s about to bequeath it to John Kasich.
To what extent did PPFA see this coming with yesterday’s preview? I did call the four states correctly and had Rubio out of the top two everywhere, but that’s about it. I thought Trump would win total delegates on the day because he was going to win the two larger states, but I didn’t see Cruz winning his states by so much and Trump winning his states by so little. They’re still allocating delegates in his two states, but it’s unlikely Trump will catch Cruz on the day. Here are percentages and delegate totals for all of Saturday:
That’s a great day for Cruz, and a rough day for Trump and Rubio. Thinking Trump was going to carry the day despite his two losses, I mostly hoped that Trump would be held under 50 percent of voters and delegates for the weekend, meaning he would stay under 50 percent for the primary. As we can see, he will be held considerably under. Even a sweep of the last 20 delegates puts him at 69, just 45 percent for Saturday. Worse yet for Trump is the drastic splits between early voters and day-of voters. Nate Silver tweeted some revealing Louisiana voting statistics:
- Early voting: Trump 46.7, Cruz 22.9, Rubio 20.1, Kasich 3.7
- Election day voting: Cruz 40.9, Trump 40.5, Rubio 9.4, Kasich 6.8
Although all the votes have yet to be counted, it appears Cruz may have beaten Trump in Louisiana on voting day itself. Only an enormous lead with early voters kept the state in Trump’s corner. The moment we’ve so long been waiting for — Trump collapsing under his own gravity like a red giant star — appears to be happening.
Caught in that supernova, however, is the artist formerly known as the establishment’s golden boy. Rubio added three more third placed finishes and a fourth in Maine. He was a total non-factor in all four states. Furthermore, take another look at that early voting split in Louisiana. Rubio fell into the single digits on voting day itself despite being neck and neck with Cruz in early voting. The Rubio collapse is more dramatic than I expected.
In sum, one consequential week evolved the pecking order and trends of the four remaining candidates considerably:
What a roller coaster!
Luckily for Rubio, if he has any hope at all of wresting back some momentum, he has the right contest today. Puerto Rico might be his best shot at another win. I’ll have a preview for it soon…