The elimination round for Cruz, Kasich and Rubio

Another Republican presidential debate, another food fight. The value of the brawl last evening for any of the participants is what is really debatable. It was entertaining, but it was ugly.

Marco Rubio finally went after Trump. Many commentators say he won the debate, whatever that means at this point. Sandy Beach on WBEN this morning referred to Rubio as a “punk.”

Rubio continues to challenge Ted Cruz for the right to be the surviving Cuban-American first term senator in the race. John Kasich is trying to find some way to hold on until Ohio votes on March 15th – not an easy job. And then we have Ben Carson – either totally not bothered by looking silly, or determined one way or the other to get even with Cruz.

Donald Trump continues to operate as the big planet that the little moons circle around. A lack of civility, decency or intelligence has not bothered his campaign thus far, so why stop now.

Alan Bedenko has a great post on The Public site this week about Congressman Chris Collins’ endorsement of Trump. I think it is only half sarcastic, as Alan suggests, that Collins is angling for appointment as Commerce Secretary. I expect that Collins’ mailer-guru, Chris Grant, is already at work figuring out how to indicate that Collins supports Trump but (in smaller fonts) also says that he opposes Trump’s positions about migrant workers from Mexico, deportation, farm supports, women, the disabled, etc.

Regardless of what the candidates or their supporters say about how they are in it for the long haul, the harsh fact is that Cruz, Kasich and Rubio will effectively be eliminated from contention for the nomination if they do not win the upcoming primaries in their respective home states. They might limp along for a while picking up a few delegates here or there, but a home-state loss will be impossible to overcome. Here is the line-up of the elimination round:

  • Texas, March 1. Proportional award of 155 delegates, but winner-take-all if a candidate gets 50 percent or more of the total state vote. Cruz has a strong base in the state and the endorsement of the governor, but Trump is threatening to upset the applecart. The Real Clear Politics (RCP) average of polls, as of February 26th, shows Cruz ahead statewide by seven percentage points.
  • Ohio, March 15. It is a winner-take-all primary for 66 delegates. As the sitting Governor, John Kasich obviously has control of the party apparatus in the state, but that may not be good enough. There has only been one recent Republican poll. It shows Trump ahead of Kasich by five points.
  • Florida, March 15. Another winner-take-all state, for 99 delegate. Besides his own Florida based team, Rubio by March 15th might officially or unofficially have what is left of the Bush team. It may not be enough. The average of two polls taken in February has Trump ahead by 18 points.

A lot is written and spoken about Donald Trump’s ceiling of vote opportunities. Many polls and the primary results in New Hampshire had him in the mid-thirty percent range. He hit 46 percent in Nevada. It is worth noting that both Cruz and Rubio have not made it past the mid-twenties in their caucus and primary results. Rubio supporters keep talking about how he will move up when the Republican field narrows. Well the field did narrow this week after Jeb Bush dropped out following his poor showing in South Carolina, and Rubio was still only able to attract 24 percent of the vote in Nevada. Cruz has not received the size of support he was expecting from evangelical voters, and after the group of southern primaries next week the territory gets much tougher for him. For Rubio the question remains, where will he win a state?

Unless something really dramatic happens in the next three weeks, the Republican nomination could be wrapped up by Trump by March 22nd.

I must admit that I was taken in by the hype about Cruz and Rubio. I assumed that their newness; Cruz’s evangelical support; Cruz’s money and vaunted ground game; Rubio’s endorsements; etc., etc. would leave them in the final showdown for the nomination. Like many others commenting on the 2016 presidential cycle, I could not imagine that someone so vile and shallow could actually gain the Republican nomination. The party, with its ready adoption of the tea party and related activities, has brought it on itself. Gee, too bad!

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