March 24, 2016
We’ve had some important contests so far. Iowa mattered. If Donald Trump had defeated Ted Cruz, odds are extremely good nobody would consider Cruz a possible nominee right now.
New Hampshire mattered. If Trump hadn’t rebounded from Iowa to win easily, he’s likely in a much tougher fight right now, probably nowhere near the front runner. I could go on, but you get the idea. If we make a list of the most important events of the GOP primary season, it would include the following:
Cruz recovers at the buzzer to win Iowa, but pisses off Ben Carson beyond recognition with his tactics.
Rubio chokes in the New Hampshire debate, allowing Kasich to finish second and stick around.
Jeb gets routed in South Carolina, leaving the race, allowing Kasich to survive as some sort of vestigial governor option. Rubio finishes just ahead of Cruz, temporarily making him the lead anti-Trump.
Trump destroys the field in Nevada.
Cruz manages to win Oklahoma and Alaska on Super Tuesday, along with Texas, setting him up as the lead anti-Trump choice, even though he fell short of his original planned results.
Rubio falls just short of a win in Virginia. He falls just short of qualifying for delegates in Vermont, Texas, Alabama. Combined with above, he swaps places with Cruz and never recovers. Each of the disappointing outcomes is attributable to Kasich taking key votes away. Absent the New Hampshire gaffe, he’s not there to do it.
Cruz wins Maine, wins Kansas easily, gets close in Kentucky, splits election day votes with Trump in Louisiana. This is Ted’s high point of the race so far, and was the final nail in Rubio’s coffin. Florida just confirmed it.
Trump wins by a solid margin in Michigan and stays ahead of Cruz in Mississippi, reminding everyone who the Alpha is.
Trump wins Illinois, partially due to divided opposition, helping him to his best day of the year.
Cruz spends time and/or resources in places like Ohio and Florida, trying to make sure Rubio and Kasich are forced out. Perhaps as a result, he falls agonizingly short in Missouri, getting swept for the day.
Trump easily wins Arizona, a state Cruz should have competed strongly in. It’s impossible to blame this on early votes or a divided field. Trump got almost half of the early voters, almost half the day of voters.
That brings us to the present. You’ll note the last few results have all favored Trump. He’s in distinctly better position than he was on March 1. He’s still tracking along at just about the necessary rate for reaching 1237 before the convention.
He’s better off for two reasons. Being roughly on pace is better the longer the race continues. Steps closer to the goal and all that. Maybe even more importantly, his opponents are losing their own justification for being nominated.
On February 29, betting markets believed Marco Rubio had a real shot. Now he’s gone, though he did manage to place third in Arizona in absentia.
Ted Cruz has won one of the past ten contests. Defeats included several places you would expect him to win if he was a likely nominee. Very few of these were the result of a divided field. Missouri for sure, very possibly North Carolina. That’s about it.
Kasich has done nothing outside of Ohio. He finished third in Illinois and Michigan, two states he should have done well in. While the results were above average for him, nothing to make people take him seriously.
Anyone wanting to stop Trump needs an alternative. Polling is already showing a small majority of Republicans are getting ready to accept a Trump nomination. While there’s a vocal large minority of #NeverTrump people, that’s not enough to do anything except push for a third party option.
All this brings us to Wisconsin. Simply put, it’s a must win for Cruz and Kasich. If Trump triumphs, he’s going to be the nominee. Ask yourself the following:
If Cruz loses here, where the most recent poll has him a point ahead of Trump and The Donald consistently trails his national numbers, where is he going to beat him? In New York or New Jersey? In Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, or Maryland? Yeah right.
He could win Indiana. He’d win South Dakota. The state conventions in North Dakota and Colorado will give him all or most of the delegates. Wyoming still has a few cookies to pass out. Not enough to get even close in the delegate count.
Also not enough to show a national following. Trump is only lacking wins on the Pacific Coast now, and they haven’t voted yet. Meanwhile, he won Arizona, Nevada, and Hawaii, so he has the region surrounded.
The Donald has wins in New England, and will have victories in the Mid-Atlantic. He won the entire Old Confederacy except Texas, and has wins in Border states. He won Midwestern states. The only gap is the Great Plains area that belongs to Cruz.
If you have a regional candidate with 15 victories up against a national one with over 30, and a big delegate lead, the convention isn’t going to opt for the former. Even if that candidate has a better control of delegates once the contest reaches a second, third, or fourth ballot.
Cruz needs wins. A victory in Wisconsin gives him a real shot in Pennsylvania. A win there makes him the favorite in Indiana. At that point, if not sooner, Kasich is a memory, and Cruz can try to defeat Trump head-to-head in California, a definite possibility.
You can call it a momentum issue, or just an indicator of future results. Either way, any reasonable path for Cruz involves a Wisconsin win. If he’d won Missouri and Arizona, it could have made him the favorite. Now it’s necessary for survival.
Then there’s Kasich. Otherwise known as the most popular candidate in the field (on either side), and the least successful final three contestant in presidential nomination history. I’m not going to research that last assertion.
Having only one victory out of thirty and that win his home state has to qualify him. Finishing under 20% of the vote more than 80% of the time is another reason. It’s his own version of the 80/20 rule.
Did I mention he lost to an extinct candidate in Arizona?
Most of his interviews begin with questions about why he’s still in the race, if his plot is to get selected as Trump’s VP, and if he’s spoiling Cruz’s shot. Jeb Bush endorsed Cruz instead of Kasich. So did Lindsey Graham.
If someone told you Kasich’s wife thinks he has no chance, you would believe it. Ok, I’m done piling on now.
All that changes in an instant if he wins Wisconsin. As mentioned above, it would eliminate Cruz from serious contention. That leaves a two-person race between Trump and Kasich. Obviously the governor can’t catch him before the convention.
He could surpass Cruz’s delegate count and he could equal or exceed Trump’s post-March 15 number. Combined with the best general election polling numbers in the field, that’s probably enough for him to make a case.
Pennsylvania is a slightly better state for him than Wisconsin. While he has almost no shot there if the Cheeseheads reject him, as the lead anti-Trump, he’s at least got a good shot. As we covered last week, the dominos begin falling for him.
Just one slight catch.
The new poll shows Cruz 36, Trump 35, Kasich 19. Any hopes of making a statement in Utah by finishing a strong second were dashed when he wound up under 20%, fathoms behind Cruz.
He’s trailing, has never polled particularly well there, and has zero momentum. Anti-Trump voters realize Cruz has his back against the wall and needs their support.
Other than that this is a walk in the park.
I’m assuming Kasich will virtually live in Wisconsin for the next two weeks. His candidacy depends on it. Cruz often exceeds expectations on election day. With the exception of Ohio, Kasich often falls short of his final poll numbers.
If he doesn’t make concrete progress in the next 7 to 10 days, he’s more likely to lose voters to Cruz than gain them from him. The math is daunting. The one thing going for him is Cruz’s difficulty in framing a message to voters who aren’t sold on him yet.
Too frequently, clips of Cruz make it seem like his existence is as Not Trump rather than Ted Cruz. It’s not entirely his fault, those are the bytes the media likes to show. If he wants to get his message out on his terms over the next two weeks, he needs to do a wider range of longer format, high profile interviews and steer the topics to what a Cruz administration would look like, not just why we should prevent Nominee or President Trump.
If Cruz gets this right, Kasich has no chance. He’s too far behind and is wearing Essence of Loser as his primary scent. But if Ted continues to talk about nothing other than Trump (at least as it seems to someone scanning the news), it creates an opportunity for the governor.
One way or another, we’ll have a ton of clarity coming out of Wisconsin.