2016 Republicans, Debates, March 15, State of the Race, Strategy, Uncategorized

Debate Recap: Motor City Meltdown

March 4, 2016

Well that was interesting. In case you were wondering, Donald Trump’s hands are adequately sized and he promises the rest of his anatomy is too.

If you went into the debate supporting a candidate, you likely left it with the same favorite.

If you were undecided, it depends. John Kasich had the market cornered on sobriety. For those who don’t enjoy the constant jousting, he’s your choice.

Otherwise, as usual, it’s a matter of taste. For the second straight debate, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were a tag team, not antagonists. Preferring one over the other is a matter of taste.

Even if Trump didn’t win over any undecided voters (and he usually doesn’t in debates), that’s less of a problem when you’re well ahead.

He spent a considerable amount of time defending himself in the first hour. Like last week, he took a considerable amount of hits. Like last week he hung in better than others would have.

So what does all this mean?

The next few days will give us a good idea of whether Republicans can deny Trump the nomination by sending multiple candidates at him, or if The Donald is only conquerable head-to-head.

That last line was constructed poorly. There’s no such thing as an organized effort to keep Trump from the nomination. Some individuals have begun funding PACs which are planning to dump tons of negative ammunition on voters in upcoming states.

While those ads may convince a few leaners to abandon Trump, they won’t likely send them in a common direction. A hit ad to take a Trump leaner and make him/her vote Rubio looks different than one aiding Cruz or Kasich.

If performances like this mean only the stronger Trump acolytes stay on board, they may be able to get away with this scattershot approach. If 90-95% of voters have decided to Trump or not to Trump and it’s only a matter of choosing a non-Trump, the focus is misplaced except to show how each candidate would deal with The Donald.

Either outcome is believable. We know Trump has a national floor no lower than 30%. But there’s a yuuge difference between 30% and 35%. By traditional scoring methods he’s lost the past two debates pretty badly.

Again, by traditional methods. Trump isn’t a traditional candidate, his supporters and leaners are not looking for a traditional candidate. It appears he lost at least some leaners after the first debate.

Cruz beat him in Alaska. Cruz beat him in Oklahoma. Cruz widened the gap in Texas. Rubio almost caught him in Virginia. Both finished ahead in Minnesota. Pre-Texas debate polling would have indicated a better finish for Trump, though winning 7 states is still a big deal.

There are Trump states where they could have a debate like this nightly and it would only reinforce his support. Mississippi isn’t going to bail on him because Rubio and Cruz got in some good shots. Florida is going to make Rubio’s task very difficult, no matter what.

Kansas votes on Saturday. It’s a place Trump could do well. It’s not a Trump state. There’s one more debate next week in Florida before the March 15 states vote. If The Donald has a big March 15, there’s no catching him.

The remaining candidates have all indicated they are determined to stay in the race until Kasich and Rubio can have their own constituents weigh in. Each hit their marks in this debate, saying and doing what they planned to, presenting themselves as an anti-Trump in their own way.

When Kansas votes on Saturday, and Michigan votes next Tuesday, we’ll see how well it worked. If Trump wins Kansas, or wins Michigan by more than 5 to 7 points, there isn’t much the group can do to harm him in the next debate.

Cruz and Rubio took their best shots. Trump wobbled a bit, but mostly stayed on his feet. Kasich did his best to appear above the fray. These guys can repeat their performances, but aren’t likely to improve on them.

If anything, if recent history is any indication, Trump will get progressively more comfortable with the firing squad and hold up better, not worse, as the contest continues.

The anti-Trump candidates have done their best. Time to see what the voters think before we go to the next round.

 

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