February 26, 2016
The debate is over. The candidates have spoken. March 1 is only 4 days away. Donald Trump can’t clinch the nomination with a clean (or very close to it) sweep, but he can put himself in a position that no previous candidate ever squandered.
Between now and Tuesday, we’ll explore scenarios for Trump’s primary challenger, Marco Rubio, and secondary obstacle John Kasich. Ted Cruz matters to the race in an organic sense, and we’ll take a look at what happens based on when he gets out and under what conditions, but he’s done.
It’s now more likely he finishes third to Rubio in several SEC states than defeats Trump. Winning Texas isn’t enough to create a nomination path. Rubio entered the debate with an advantage on Cruz and exited it as the clear better choice to stop Trump.
It wasn’t that Ted did anything particularly wrong in the debate. It was actually one of his stronger efforts and he more than held his own in Trumpian combat. But Rubio rushed out of the gate, getting in several punches before Cruz could throw his.
Looking at it from the perspective of the following morning, Cruz looks like his junior partner in the anti-Trump effort. Jonah Goldberg has suggested a unity ticket of Rubio-Cruz and after yesterday, it’s hard to see how Cruz-Rubio is a reasonable alternative.
Make no mistake, Trump is in the pole position, regardless of how others attempt to stop him. As well as his attackers did yesterday, you have to admit few others could have taken that amount of incoming fire and hung in while returning some.
There are a few possible March 1 outcomes:
Rubio underperforms. Trump wins everywhere except Texas, leaving Marco zero for the primary season. Cruz finishes ahead of him in several southern states. Kasich runs about even in Massachusetts, ahead in Vermont. Rubio doesn’t get within 7 or 8 points of Trump anywhere.
This is great for Trump and necessary for Kasich. Cruz would need to decide if he wants to delay the inevitable.
Trump crushes it. Enough Cruz voters in Texas leak to Rubio in an attempt to stop Trump. This allows The Donald to narrowly win the Lone Star State. He wins everywhere else too. Large margins in Massachusetts, Vermont, Georgia and Alabama help him win a majority of delegates.
This is embarrassing for Cruz, suboptimal for Rubio and not ideal for Kasich. Expecting anyone to stop the train at this point, however allied, is pushing it. Chris Christie jumped aboard today. If Trump sweeps March 1, the train gets very crowded.
Rubio overperforms. The debate was too late and too many Trump voters are committed for The Donald to lose more than a few places, but Rubio manages to win in Minnesota, Virginia, and Oklahoma, and get real close in Tennessee.
He finishes ahead of Kasich in Massachusetts and Vermont, ahead of Cruz in Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, etc.
Even this is a long road. Trump would have a large delegate advantage and remain the favorite. Rubio would have plenty of work left to do. Kasich looks like more of a spoiler than a backup.
We’ll dive into these scenarios shortly, but rest assured, there’s a reason the betting markets and pundits are favoring Trump. If you have any doubts about his skill as a candidate, pull up video from his rally in Fort Worth today.
If you like him, it will fill you with pride. If you don’t it will fill you with dread. Either way, this is one hell of a candidate.