March 15, 2016
As I type this, Missouri is still too close to call. Donald Trump leads by a couple thousand votes with a few precincts still out. At absolute worst, he will win 3 out of 5 contests, at best four.
He lost Ohio. To a very popular incumbent governor who spend the entire last week campaigning in his home state. Trump still finished more than 20 points ahead of Ted Cruz in a very key Republican state.
Marco Rubio was never particularly strong in his home state. Trump has treated Florida as a second home for the better part of three decades. That’s all well and good, but The Donald still beat him by almost 20 points, almost half a million votes.
You might be impressed, you might be horrified, but it’s a damn impressive achievement. In 1940, businessman Wendell Willkie won the GOP nomination. A long-time Democrat, insufficiently committed to Republican doctrine in the view of much of the establishment, he swept to victory at the convention.
In 2016, Trump is running against trade deals, something accepted as Republican orthodoxy for decades. Willkie was an interventionist, and the fall of France just ahead of the convention distinguished him from his competitors.
Thomas Dewey, who would win the nomination in 1944 and 1948 was considered too young (38) and untested to serve as standard bearer in wartime. Robert A. Taft, who would fall just short of nomination in 1948 and 1952 as well, and Arthur Vandenberg were too isolationist.
Though primaries had a much smaller role in choosing delegates, a popular surge for Willkie influenced party insiders at the convention. They were still accountable to the voters back home, and Willkie led national preference polls among GOP voters, going from an afterthought a few months before to 44% support.
Republicans wound up nominating someone who had never run for or held elective office. He beat a relatively strong field. In recognizing that many Republican voters did not agree with the establishment policy on (not) helping England, he grabbed an opening and won.
So, there’s precedent for Trump. Someone has pulled this off before. Once. In the past hundred and sixty years, exactly one GOP nominee has never served in the House or Senate, in the cabinet, as a military general, or governor of a state. Wendell Willkie.
Trump doesn’t have this sewn up yet, but he’s further down the road than anyone else fitting this profile. Republicans have seen the likes of Steve Forbes and Herman Cain, but only Willkie made a serious run.
North Carolina wasn’t that big a deal. Trump won all of its neighbors. We covered Florida and Ohio. What made it a big day was Illinois and Missouri. Winning by almost 10 points in Illinois indicates he may well have won a one-on-one race too.
He defeated Kasich in the Chicago suburbs, beat Cruz Downstate. It’s a bad sign for #NeverTrump. He would have won against either of the remaining contenders individually, and neither could do too much with him in the individual congressional districts that distributed most of the delegates.
It looks like Trump won 85 to 90 percent of the counties. This was four days after his cancelled rally in Chicago. It was outside his base in the South and Northeast. Cruz has an advantage in the inland West and Plains states. That’s the only place we know someone is ahead of The Donald.
Missouri is historically part Western, part Southern, part Midwestern. They voted this way too. Cruz and Trump effectively tied. If they tied in Illinois, and Cruz won Missouri, the line between the two candidates is drawn closer to Trump’s pre-existing strength.
He might not get to 1237 before the convention, but he also doesn’t have to. Trump is now over 200 delegates ahead of Cruz. People can talk all they want about contested or brokered conventions, but if Trump is at 1120 delegates and Cruz holds 800, they aren’t legitimately stopping him.
Until Cruz beats him in an open primary outside of his core area, or Kasich beats him anywhere outside of Ohio, Trump remains on a glide path to the nomination. We’ve spent a few weeks debating the advantages and disadvantages of one-on-one or flooding the zone.
A one-on-one race would make it easier for Cruz to catch up, but risk having Trump get to 1237 ahead of the convention. Adding Kasich makes it virtually impossible for Cruz to catch Trump, but perhaps could slow The Donald.
Even if they can’t keep him from winning regularly, many of the upcoming primaries do the congressional district winner-take-all format used by Illinois and Missouri. If Illinois is any indication, this won’t work very well.
Trump ends the day in his best position yet.