March 09, 2016 - Wednesday
If there's anyone secretly cheering for Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Governor John Kasich (R-Ohio) to stay in the race, it is probably Donald Trump. While I certainly appreciate persistence and determination, there's no question that this morning's headlines would have been dramatically different had Rubio and Kasich exited the race. By all accounts, the two men at the bottom of the GOP ticket are what's keeping the billionaire afloat, splitting the ballots just enough to let Trump squeak by his biggest rival: Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
"This is a very minor victory in the great scheme of things," RedState's Caleb Howe explained. "You can argue about momentum or the psychology of winning states, but when it comes to the numbers, this was not in any way a sweep or message or mandate for Donald Trump. It is, however, increasingly obvious that Marco Rubio and John Kasich are not on any path that remotely leads to victory." Of course, some of the media will tell you that Tuesday's results helped cinch the nomination for Donald, when even he knows that Rubio and Kasich are sparing him from a fierce head-to-head with Cruz. Take Idaho, where Cruz beat Trump 45-28 percent. If Rubio had bowed out of that one state, the night would have belonged to the Texas senator.
As Daniel Horowitz breaks it down in one of the best analyses of the day, "Rubio got only 17 percent in Idaho and missed the delegate threshold, but [he] easily blocked Cruz from winning 50 percent and making Idaho winner-take-all. Cruz came just 4.5 percent within the 50-percent mark. This made the difference between Cruz netting 32 delegates over Trump and winning the night and netting just six delegates. When coupled with Rubio playing spoiler in Texas and other states only to come up empty himself, Cruz would now be in the [overall] lead if not for Rubio playing in states he could not win delegates."
In Mississippi, where Trump was predicted to trounce Cruz, the gap closed to just nine points -- 47-36 percent. (At 9 percent and 5 percent, Kasich and Rubio were footnotes, neither winning a single delegate.) Once again, we witnessed the importance of the last debate in Mississippi, where the voters in Mississippi who picked their candidate last month broke 64 percent for Trump. The others, who chose in the last couple of weeks, split evenly between the two. In Michigan, where Cruz was expected to come in third, he surged to second – upsetting Kasich who joked that he'd spent so much time in the state recently that he might have to start paying taxes there. Even more telling? Cruz spent roughly $2,000 in the state (less than Jeb Bush paid for a single vote in Iowa!). By night's end, Ted edged out Kasich by 8,000 votes, dealing a huge blow to the Buckeye. And tainting Trump's victory, half of Michigan voters think the front-runner is dishonest -- hardly a ringing endorsement. Where Trump excelled was Hawaii, one of the few closed primaries where he's finished first. Still, Donald continues to underperform in places where only Republicans are eligible to vote in GOP primaries.
Overall, the landscape hasn't changed much. For Trump, last night's wins only resulted in a 13-delegate net gain on Cruz, leaving the two men about 100 apart (446 to 347). The real story is the story that might have been if Rubio and Kasich had stepped aside and let the two leaders compete. Right now, Trump is only ahead because it's a crowded field. According to NBC's latest poll, Cruz would have the clear advantage with Trump alone, beating him 57 to 40 percent in a head-to-head. Nationally, even with Rubio and Kasich peeling off votes, Trump is at 30 percent to Cruz's 27 percent. But perhaps most importantly, Trump trails nine points where it counts: in a contest with Secretary Hillary Clinton.
Maybe that's why the Texas senator is seeing a boost in endorsements too. Earlier this morning, former opponent Carly Fiorina jumped into the Cruz camp with a powerful speech in Miami about the GOP finally having a candidate not afraid to challenge the status quo. Governors Rick Perry, Phil Bryant (R-Miss.), even Jeb Bush's brother, Neil, are fanning the Cruz momentum. By this time next week, the race could look a lot different. So to those of you gearing up to vote, I encourage you: don't look at the polls in your state -- look at the principles of your candidate. Then go out there and vote your values. (FRCA's Presidential Voter Guide can help.)
DISCLAIMER: Tony Perkins has made an endorsement in his individual and personal capacity only, and it should not be construed or interpreted in any way as the endorsement of FRC, FRC Action, or any affiliated entity.