February 29, 2016
Not only is everybody just about ready to hand the nomination to Donald Trump, but they are dismissing Ted Cruz as the final anti-Trump option. Marco Rubio is getting far more coverage, and his daily insults are more marketable than another round of Cruz droning on about conservative principles.
Rubio has establishment support. Rubio has peer endorsements. Rubio is more likeable. Rubio is getting further under Trump’s skin and doing a better job of putting him on the defensive. The calendar seemingly becomes more Rubio-favorable as time goes on.
Cruz can’t even win most southern evangelical states. He spent months talking about Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, only to have him endorse Trump. Even his supporters are saying nice things about Rubio. Rick Perry and Glenn Beck have both complimented Marco’s anti-Trump shtick.
Many of Ted’s conservative fans are expecting pressure on him to mount if/when Trump dominates Super Tuesday. Most, like Erick Erickson, are more than willing to toss Cruz over the side if Rubio has a better chance of stopping Trump. Some are urging them to run as a unity ticket.
Betting markets have Rubio about 6 times more likely to win the nomination than Cruz (though still a huge underdog to Trump). Even after South Carolina, Bernie Sanders has better odds to defeat Hillary than Cruz with Trump.
Ted’s favorite movie is the Princess Bride. Ted does imitations of Billy Crystal’s character whenever he gets the chance. At a crucial moment, he needs to revive the seemingly dead Wesley, so he can save the princess.
Fortunately, he was only mostly dead. The same thing may apply to the Cruz campaign. Perhaps he’s only mostly dead. Consider the following:
Somebody will emerge as an anti-Trump. As we discovered earlier today, a full third of GOP primary voters are violently opposed to The Donald, just shy of half would prefer to avoid voting for him in November.
It needs to happen before March 15 to make the math work, but a good amount of voters will rally around whomever the option is.
Cruz is not at a distinct polling disadvantage to Rubio. The CNN/ORC poll that showed Trump and the Lilliputians had Rubio and Cruz effectively tied. They’re also very even on attributes and overall suitability. Each are seen as a suitable nominee by about 70% of GOP primary voters.
Ted was supposed to have an advantage in the South. As we know, he didn’t, that’s why he’s viewed as close to finished. Rubio leads him in plenty of SEC state polls. But they’re effectively tied in most national polls.
The corollary is Cruz is not at the expected disadvantage in the North. He’s 8 points ahead of Rubio in the only 2016 poll taken in Ohio. He tied Rubio in the most recent polls taken in Michigan and Massachusetts.
Ted is likely to win Texas tomorrow. Rubio is down 16 to 20 points in Florida. Though Marco has now pulled in front of Cruz there, for a couple months, Ted was ahead. You can argue he would make a Trump-Cruz race almost as close in Florida as a Trump-Rubio.
As long as Marco can’t win the winner-take-all state, it doesn’t matter anyway. He also has more overlap with Kasich than Cruz does. If only one of Rubio or Cruz survives to March 15, and Kasich refuses to get out, Cruz has the better chance of winning Ohio, Missouri or North Carolina in a three-way race.
Tomorrow will tell all for the two senators. Three possibilities. Rubio finishes ahead of Cruz in most states. Cruz finishes ahead of Rubio in most states. They split things roughly down the middle.
If Marco gets the better of Ted, it’s only a matter of time until Cruz exits. If not on March 2, then on March 9th or 10th after Michigan. But the same logic applies to Rubio. We know Trump is going to get the best of both of them in most states tomorrow.
Cruz will almost definitely finish well ahead of Rubio in Texas. Rubio appears decently ahead of Cruz in Virginia, but it’s not the same gap as Ted’s home state. Minnesota is a total toss-up. They were both ahead of Trump in the last poll.
Marco has invested a little time there, but it was a Rick Santorum state in 2012, and Cruz has yet to finish with lower numbers in any of the first four contests. This will likely break his streak, as Santorum got close to 50%, but with limited data, it’s a mistake to assume he can’t win or at least finish ahead of Rubio here.
Cruz is very likely to finish ahead in Alaska. The data is old, from early January, but Ted was 17 points ahead of him, just behind Trump. Given how the race has moved over the past 7 weeks, The Donald is the favorite, but Cruz should finish a decently strong second.
Ted is ahead of Rubio in Arkansas in the one February poll. They appear roughly tied in Georgia and Oklahoma. Cruz is ahead in the one Tennessee poll. Beyond Virginia, Alabama is the only other state with a clear polling edge for Rubio. You should probably give him Vermont too.
As much as many like Marco’s new material, there is zero evidence it’s helping in the polls. If Cruz wins Texas, and steals Minnesota, both very possible, he ends the day as the only candidate other than Trump to have won somewhere.
Counting Iowa, he’d have two wins outside of his home state. That isn’t real impressive, but any anti-Trump is dealing with limitations. It’s not like strong conservatives are itching to turn to Kasich. Cruz is likely to finish ahead of him in 85 to 90 percent of the states voting before March 15.
He was only trailing him by 5 points in Ohio. If voters there are following their pattern of backing off as Kasich seems less viable, Cruz could already be even with or ahead of the governor. He leads him in Michigan.
The March 5 states favor Trump, but Cruz could finish ahead of Rubio in at least 3 of them. In fairness, the same is true in reverse, but whomever does better on March 1 will do better on March 5. This carries forward to Michigan on the 8th too.
If Rubio wakes up on the morning of March 9 and Cruz has finished ahead of him in 65 to 75% of the states so far, a Puerto Rico victory on the 6th isn’t enough to argue he is the better anti-Trump.
A Cruz-Trump race looks different than Rubio-Trump. Cruz would not have anywhere near the same establishment support. That’s not a bad thing. Rubio-Trump is an inside-outside battle. Trump can keep conservatives in his corner by being anti-Washington.
Nobody has more successfully used his enemies to define him than Trump. His popularity stems largely from who is against him. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, as the old saying goes.
In a Trump-Rubio contest, Bob Dole is with Rubio. In a Trump-Cruz contest, he’s with The Donald. If we figure that a third of Republicans are against Trump no matter what, and a third are with him no matter what, the division of the final third is different depending on the opponent.
You may personally prefer one or the other, think one is more likely to win a general election, make a stronger president, whatever, but the data indicates their chances of getting past Trump in a one-on-one race are very similar.
Rubio is stronger on the West Coast, Cruz may have an edge in places like Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania. It’s probably a wash. If you can’t make an argument that Rubio is that much stronger against Trump, and Cruz is regularly finishing ahead of him, by nature, Ted is the more appropriate anti-Trump.
It doesn’t look good for Cruz. He’s consistently failed to broaden his message and win over voters who aren’t values first, or very strong conservatives. But he isn’t dead yet. Only mostly dead.
Until Rubio finishes Super Tuesday with a clearly stronger day, Ted is as credible an anti-Trump as anyone else. Somebody will get to play that role. Why not him?