The results of Tuesday, March 8, Republican primaries in Michigan, Mississippi, Idaho, and Hawaii are in, with big consequences for the race ahead. Trump won three of the four primaries (losing Idaho to Cruz), including the two biggest prizes, Michigan and Mississippi. He captured almost half of the available delegates (73 out of 150 or 48.7%), with Cruz capturing almost two-fifths (59 or 39.3%), Kasich slightly over one-tenth (17, all from Michigan, or 11.3%), and Rubio less than one-hundredth (1 delegate or .7%). In terms of the total vote (1,862,115, discounting Hawaii’s caucus vote), Trump garnered 39.5% (734,790), Cruz 30.9% (575,767), Kasich 20% (372,504, 86% of which was from Michigan), and Rubio 9.6% (179,054). What are the consequences of these results?
First and foremost, as painful as it is for Rubio supporters to hear, Senator Rubio is finished. This is the biggest news of the evening. He had another terrible performance tonight. He will get no delegates from Michigan (9.3%) and Mississippi (5.1%), each of which has a delegate threshold of 15%. Nor will he get a single delegate from Idaho, despite his 15.9% performance, because Idaho has a higher threshold of 20%. He will get 1 delegate from Hawaii for his distant third-place showing in Hawaii (13.1%). His showing in Mississippi was particularly dismal. Just two weeks ago he polled at 16%. Michigan too, we were told by the Rubio camp, was the kind of state that Rubio would do well in, as opposed to Cruz. That prediction never materialized.
Three new Florida polls were released Wednesday and another a day or two earlier. These four polls put Rubio at 22-24% of the vote as compared to Trump’s 36-45%. In sum, Rubio is down by an average of 18 points in relation to Trump (41% to 23%). The previous Monmouth poll that had Rubio down “only” 8% has proven to be an unreliable outlier. Remember, too, that these polls were taken before Rubio’s debacle of a vote Tuesday where Rubio garnered across the board less than 10% of the vote and received only one delegate. He certainly is not a more viable candidate today than he was a few days ago.
It doesn’t even matter at this point whether Rubio could eke out a narrow victory in his home state of Florida, which at any rate is now even more unlikely than it was before Tuesday. If Rubio does not now get out, and his conservative supporters do not switch allegiance to Cruz, it will be in no small part their fault if Trump (or Kasich) gets nominated.
Rubio should have bowed out after Saturday; yea, before Saturday. Had Rubio not been in the race last Saturday, Cruz would have had a 4-state sweep (he lost Kentucky and Louisiana by only 4 points each). Had Rubio not been in the race Tuesday, Cruz would have picked up most of Rubio’s votes in Idaho and easily surpassed the 50% threshold to win all of Idaho’s 32 delegates (as it was, Cruz got 45.4% of the vote). Rubio has become an albatross around the neck of conservative hopes. Talk of a brokered convention in which Rubio might have a shot at supplanting Cruz as the sole option to Trump now looks like pure fantasy.
Second, Kasich, after a close third-place finish in Michigan, has emerged as Cruz’s chief non-Trump rival, primarily by process of attrition. He far exceeded the expectations that existed a few weeks ago for his performance in the Michigan primary. Still, one should not go overboard here. Even in Michigan, which is supposed to be Kasich territory and anything-but-Cruz territory, Cruz beat Kasich. Narrowly, albeit (24.9% to 24.3%), but he still finished ahead of him. Four Michigan polls published in the last week indicated on average that Kasich would finish 1-6 points ahead of Cruz; one even put him a few points ahead of Trump in first place. It didn’t happen. And Kasich was no factor in Mississippi (8.8%), Idaho (7.4%), and Hawaii (10.6%). Kasich has yet to win a primary, let alone one with a resounding victory. Other than possibly Ohio, it is questionable whether Kasich can win any remaining primary or caucus.
Third and finally, Trump regained some of the momentum he lost last Saturday and Cruz lost a bit of his momentum. Nevertheless (and this is the important point), Cruz continues to outperform significantly all the non-Trump options. He trounced Trump in yet one more state, Idaho (45.4% to 28.1%, a margin of 17.3 points). This is particularly noteworthy given the fact that according to one Idaho poll taken on 2/26 Trump was supposed to be the runaway winner: 30% as compared to Cruz’s 19%. Cruz has now won seven primaries or caucuses, four (Texas, Kansas, Maine, and Idaho) by impressive margins.
Trump had a strong victory in Mississippi, defeating Cruz by 11 points. The South should be Cruz’s stronghold. Yet Cruz’s 36.3% showing was a good deal higher than the 17% that he polled in late February. Trump won nearly two-thirds of those who decided their vote over a month ago, while voters who decided in the past month were evenly divided between Cruz and Trump. So Mississippi still represents somewhat of a comeback for Cruz, demonstrating some forward momentum. Mississippi was also an open primary, which allowed non-Republicans to vote, a constituency that normally goes heavily for Trump.
Michigan was a disappointment to many Cruz supporters (with Cruz finishing 11.6 points behind Trump) but for Cruz it was all uphill in a northern blue state with few evangelicals. Even so, he performed a few points better than the latest polls predicted and at least came in second. Exit polls from Michigan indicated that in a one-on-one race with Trump he might have eked out a narrow victory over Trump (h.t. Maggie Gallagher). Actually, it is a wonder that Cruz got any significant support in Michigan, considering that his campaign spent next-to-nothing on television advertisements. The Cruz campaign and allies spent only $1,112 in television ads through Mar. 6, as compared to $184,636 by Trump, $770,353 by Kasich, and $1.2 million by Rubio (compare the Democratic side where Bernie Sanders spent $3.5 million and Clinton $2.6 million). Think of what Cruz could have done if he had spent some real money.
The Hawaii caucus was icing on the cake for Trump, defeating the second place Cruz by 9.7% (42.4% to 32.7%); but Hawaii, owing to its distance and exotic culture, has its own distinct set of issues.
Just as before Tuesday’s voting, Cruz is the only viable option to Trump. A just released ABC News/Washington Post poll of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents found that in a hypothetical two-way matchup, Cruz beats Trump by thirteen percentage points (54% to 41%). While Trump received nearly 40% of the vote Tuesday, over 60% of voters did not vote for Trump. Those who voted for Cruz and Rubio combined for 40.5% of the vote (with Cruz accounting for three-quarters of that total). Trump can be defeated, but it requires a further winnowing of the field. Only Cruz to date has come close in delegate count to Trump, justifying the convention’s handing Cruz the nomination after the first ballot (the New York Times lists the delegate count when Hawaii delegates are added as 457 for Trump, 354 for Cruz, 152 for Rubio, and 54 for Kasich). Moreover, Cruz matches up better against Clinton than does Trump (RealClearPolitics.com cites 4 polls that have Trump down an average of 3.4 points below Clinton in a head-to-head match-up and 3 polls that have Cruz up an average of 1.5 points over Clinton). While Rubio and Kasich supporters might argue that their candidate matches up even better than Cruz, neither Rubio nor Kasich has the delegate count and vote totals that would justify not giving the nomination to Trump.
It is time for the Republican establishment to rally around Cruz if they want to save the party from Trump who is likely to go down to defeat in November but, if elected, betray conservative Republican values on the right to life, marriage, religious liberty, and sound court appointments. Trump has spent most of his adult life in the Democratic fold. On social values he is more a Democrat than a Republican. Trump is for himself, having made a life out of scamming others, whether that be at Trump University or in his casinos. It is time to “make America great,” as Trump likes to say, but by giving the nomination to Cruz rather than to Trump.