The Republican primary race is far from over. That’s not the takeaway you might have expected this morning, after Donald Trump won
eight of 12 seven of 11 states (Colorado’s caucus results weren’t binding) on Super Tuesday and tried his hand at a presidential-style press conference (which, in a Trump presidency, would apparently include an unblinking flunky/hostage standing behind him the entire time).
But as I suggested would happen, the fact is that Trump woke up today with a lesser chance, mathematically, of winning the GOP nomination outright before this summer’s convention in Cleveland. He entered the day with more than 60 percent of the delegates awarded. Here is how things stand as of right now:
So Trump is trending downward in terms of delegates and, as of now, isn’t on pace to clinch the nomination. In fact, he’s running significantly behind Mitt Romney’s pace from 2012:
Of course, much will change starting March 15, when states can award all of their delegates to the winner. But with Trump’s support still hovering in the 30s — on Tuesday he polled below 35 percent more times (seven) than he did above 40 percent (two) — it is clear he could still be beaten in a one-on-one match-up, and perhaps even in a three-man race. The question is what strategy is available to the other candidates to stop him. Let’s go one by one:
How he did Tuesday: The senator had a big night, claiming victories in Texas, Oklahoma and Alaska. That brings him to four states won overall — an important number because, under current RNC rules, a candidate must have won the most votes in at least eight states to be officially placed in nomination during the first round. So he’s halfway there. Still more important, Cruz fought Trump nearly to a draw in terms of delegates, mostly thanks to his huge haul in Texas (an estimated 100 delegates). That said, when Cruz entered the race, he was counting on winning states like Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee, not finishing second in them.
Where he stands now: Cruz is in a clear second place, with more wins than any other non-Trumps and the second-most delegates.
His outlook: Hard to tell. There are a handful of Southern states still to come, but they are mostly small. And as I mentioned, it’s not as if Cruz has been cleaning up in the Deep South anyway. Cruz’s best chance is for Marco Rubio to drop out ASAP and hope he gets the lion’s share of the Floridian’s support. But he would also benefit from a more general coalescing around him by, yes, the GOP establishment — and his pitchforks-and-torches approach to the Senate and Washington more generally since he arrived there three years ago may keep him from getting that.
How he did Tuesday: It was a quintessentially Rubio night as far as how the primary’s been going. He did well enough to justify staying in the race, winning his first state (Minnesota), running a very close second in another (Virginia) and increasing his share of the delegates. His results also look better this morning than if you went to bed at, say, 10 p.m. — i.e., before Minnesota’s results were in, and before he’d pulled ahead of Cruz in Georgia. But he didn’t exactly prove “Marcomentum” can push him to victory. He once again won late-deciders, according to exit polls, and one wonders how the race would look if not for early voting (I’ll try to write a separate post about that soon).
Where he stands now: He’s a clear third place, in a race that needs to get down to no more than three candidates, and possibly only two, very soon if Trump is to be stopped. That’s not a great place to be.
His outlook: That depends on whether you think he can ever capitalize on these late surges and start pulling ahead of all the other candidates once the contests become winner-take-all. He was never going to be able to win the nomination without winning Florida; now it’s hard to see how even that would be enough. Rubio is most clearly playing for a contested convention right now. But then, that’s the second most likely scenario at this point, behind Trump winning the nomination outright.
How he did Tuesday: Meh. He nearly won Vermont and finished a distant second in Massachusetts. So his claim to fame now is beating the other non-Trumps, but not Trump, in a trio of New England states that will go blue this fall (with the possible exception of New Hampshire). Call him the “Brave, Brave Sir Robin” of this race. Based on those results alone, he should have dropped out last night — at the very latest.
Where he stands now: He’s the spoiler in the race. Rubio was clearly upset with Kasich last night, correctly noting he’d have almost certainly won Virginia if not for the Ohio governor (Kasich pulled 9.4 percent there; Rubio lost the state to Trump by 2.8 points). The irony is that Kasich could play a key role in getting that contested convention Rubio wants, by denying Trump an outright win.
His outlook: Kasich has the most to be optimistic about among the non-Trumps, with his winner-take-all, home state of Ohio and nearby Illinois coming up March 15. Before then comes Michigan on March 8. Kasich has based his entire campaign on winning in the states Republicans haven’t been winning nationally, in the Midwest and Northeast. But let’s be honest: He’s been running in large part for vice president, as Ohio is critical to GOP chances in November. And that goal is still very much attainable.
How he did Tuesday: Terrible.
Where he stands now: Last place.
His outlook: There is only one argument for Carson’s staying in, and it belongs to anti-Trump partisans such as myself. Carson is winning some percentage of voters who might otherwise go for the other “outsider” (who’s not really an outsider) in the race, Trump. In proportional-delegate states, that has probably blunted Trump’s delegate count just a bit. Once we get to winner-take-all states, however, it could be the difference between Trump winning or narrowly losing to either Cruz, Rubio or Kasich, depending on the state. Carson’s public motivation seems to be more predicated on denying votes to Cruz. But there’s a chance he’s doing Cruz (and Rubio and Kasich) a favor by staying in. Which only makes his candidacy more quixotic.