So I’ve had a few days to digest what Super Tuesday meant for the direction of the election. Here’s what I think we can take away from Tuesday, and what it spells for the Republican Party (I’ll talk about the Democrats briefly tomorrow).
The GOP primary isn’t ‘over’.
So like every bad (or just every single) writer, I wrote a heavily slanted piece on Tuesday about how we could see the primary finalize during the 11-state race. What this relied upon was:
- A Decimating Trump victory across the slate
- A close race in Texas between Trump and Cruz
- Not a single Rubio victory (or only one weak one)
Basically, we needed to see a landslide. But I don’t think we got there. Sure, Trump had a great night, and by all accounts he’s well on the path to the nomination. But Tuesday was far from a knock out punch. Instead, this is what I think we can say about where the Republicans are.
Cruz may have just become the alternative to Donald Trump.
Cruz, probably the second most hated figure in GOP circles, somehow found his way to the point of being Trump’s largest competition. His four victories on Super Tuesday exemplified this possibibility, though it’s problematic whether or not Ted Cruz can gain ground on the voting base that has made Trump such a powerful force. If he can’t bring Evangelicals back to his camp, he’s got no chance. And as long as Trump continues to win in the deep south, Cruz’s path to the nomination is problematic at best.
Rubio is in trouble.
Rubio had a bad night on Tuesday, and the establishment wing of the party knows it. Roger Ailes at Fox News has already signaled that the network won’t continue their favorable coverage of the Florida Senator, so the dream of Rubio being the establishment alternative is quickly dissipating.
The only real hope for Rubio lies in his home state of Florida, where polls have shown a tightening race between himself and Trump. If Trump wins Florida, then Rubio is pretty much out of viable options for the convention. At that point, he has to hope for a brokered convention that would somehow overlook the two other Trump alternatives (though what delegate would go for the man who lost his home state?).
Ben Carson is out.
This is one of the few predictions of mine that came completely true. Ben Carson is done, skipping the debate in Detroit and probably mulling over how he can get the most book deals out of this whole debacle. Good riddance.
Kasich has a chance.
The GOP establishment is furious that Kasich is still even in the race, and in some instances he’s pulled away votes from Rubio. But the interesting thing is that Governor Kasich’s positive (albeit sexist and awful in practicality) message and narrative is providing a healthy juxtaposition to the rest of the field. While Rubio is going off about Trump’s small hands, Kasich is making inroads in the sort of communities and voting blocks that Mitt Romney relied upon in 2012 and that Rubio desperately needs this time around.
Kasich is hedging his bets on his home state of Ohio, where polls also have him neck and neck against Trump. Both Rubio and Kasich have an interesting attractiveness for the GOP in the general election, considering that their home states are almost always at the core of the swing states that decide the President. Now, if Trump wins in Ohio, then Kasich is done for. But if Kasich can pull out the win, and possibly a decisive win, then he has some justification to position himself as the ‘moderate’ alternative to Trump and Cruz.
The Republicans don’t need one single alternative to Trump. Donald Trump can be beaten.
This is my theory, and one that I don’t think gets a lot of approval from the RNC. Bare with me.
We’ve spent the better part of this election cycle talking about the necessity of stopping Donald Trump with a ‘single alternative’, often under the pretenses that the alternative would be Marco Rubio. It’s becoming clear that Marco Rubio’s strategy of losing all but one state in the primary season isn’t going to work, and the only way it could work is if strong, alternative candidates spread around the field could siphon votes away from Trump.
Some of Trump’s strongest support comes from lower-educated, blue collar, north-eastern and southern states. That cuts directly into the ideal voting blocks of candidates such as Ted Cruz in the south and Kasich in the north (particularly midwest). What’s missing from a lot of this discussion is the west, where I see candidates such as Rubio and Kasich fighting for the second place (and Trump leading the charge). As long as the candidates fight amongst one another, they’re screwed: they’ll only weaken their own vote totals and allow Trump to carry the rest. It’s a recipe for disaster.
But what the Republican field should do right now is make a pact, a pact to cease all hostility towards one another and go directly at Donald Trump. Donald Trump may still win the majority of delegates that are up for grabs, or at least more than the second highest candidate, but this strategy increases the likelihood of a bloody, combative, and necessary fight on the floor of a brokered Republican convention in Cleveland.
This could destroy the party. It really could. But it could also fundamentally rebuild the party and restructure the essence of what it means to be a Republican. In 2012 we were told that the RNC was going to foster this new concept of inclusion in the party, learning from the shortcomings of the election results in 2012. But we’ve seen the opposite, and instead are watching an American political party consumed by the most bigoted and hateful forces of American conservatism.
We heard a few moments ago that Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee from 2012, has gone full force against Donald Trump’s quest for the baton in 2016. And for good reason: out of all of the Republican candidates this year, he’s the only one who knows how to win the whole thing.
The only thing that can bring down Donald Trump is a pact among the moderates, pragmatists, and ‘hawks’ in the party who don’t want to see the Republican Party’s twenty-first century landmark accomplishment to be a wall along the southern border. And, if they begin this fight now, they might have a chance. The Republican Party won’t be fixed in memos or RNC objectives; it’ll be fought for tooth in nail in a bloody, wild-west like showdown. Because that’s exactly what this race for the GOP nomination has become: ruthless, unforgiving, devoid of any reason or rationality.
Let’s just hope that it’s not Trump who comes out as the last man standing.