{Ed note: This was written prior to the GOP debate last night.}

The good news for the #NeverTrump crew, is that the momentum we feared for Trump did not especially materialize. He didn’t get 50% in Massachusetts, didn’t have a shutout or a near-shutout. He doesn’t appear invulnerable in the abstract. Yet.

The problem, of course, remains the rest of the field. Little long-term clarity was achieved.

Rubio lost by inches, but lost big. A couple couple points in Virginia and he’d look a lot better. A few points in some other states would have gotten him across the delegate threshold. Whenever I write these up, there is always something that I don’t talk about that happens. Usually it’s been a near-tie, so when I talk about placing second or third I didn’t account for the fact that #3-5 would tie in New Hampshire or #2-3 would tie in South Carolina. In this case, it was those delegate thresholds and the overall delegate count. Which I did actually consider, but did not convey. It turned out to be really important to the narrative. It’s become even more critical that he win Florida, and it’s become even harder for him to do so. The media’s comparative generosity towards him has run out, and what yesterday could have been a Rubio endorsement by Romney was instead a general anti-Trump speech.

While Trump did worse than I feared and Rubio worse than I had hoped, Cruz is the only one I can point to and say definitively “He had a good night.” Good enough that it props up an iffy narrative that he can be the Trump Alternative. The problem for Cruz remains that the rest of the map looks a lot more like Massachusetts, Virginia, and Minnesota than it does like Texas and Oklahoma. He has also continued to show no message agility and it just seems unlikely that he’s going to be able to pivot to be competitive in the North. There were three data points, two largely overlooked, that could give Team Cruz hope. First, while Rubio won Minnesota, Cruz came in a close second. Minnesota is a quirky little state and it had a closed caucus, but that’s still something! The second overlooked thing is that he won the Colorado straw poll, which was also a closed caucus and is unbinding, but take the three of them together and you can sort of paint a picture of Cruz being strong-ish in the west. I’ll need to run the math, but while he wouldn’t be able to win the nomination that way he could rack up some serious wins to help his narrative against a generally hostile media. Speaking of which, one of the reasons Cruz’s outing impressed me is that he did it largely being ignored by the media, but Cruz being Cruz, it’s entirely possible that helped him.

JohnKasich2Kasich’s campaign rationale is starting to become a little bit clear. He doesn’t have much of a chance at the nomination by way of delegates, and is unlikely to get it in a convention even if it is in Ohio, but if you tilt your head you could see him starting to get a lot of attention as the guy who can possibly beat Trump in the north more realistically than Cruz. He’s probably about to get some money from people who just want to prevent Trump from getting 1237.

This weekend are Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Maine. Trump seems to have made Maine a priority, and it’s on his turf, so it’s easy to expect him to take it pretty easily. There could be a challenge from Kasich, however, as there was in Vermont. Trump looks strong in Louisiana, but I should point out that Louisiana has a closed primary and an unusually high number of ornery bubbas are still registered Democrats in that state. That dynamic carried Cruz to victory in Oklahoma and could do so in Louisiana. However, the gap in the polls is just too large to make that likely, and Louisiana has a soft spot for strongmen. Kansas and Kentucky are both closed caucuses and there’s not much indication that Trump has much organization there. Assuming that Cruz has organization just about everywhere, both bode well for him (especially Kentucky, which seems like Cruz country though the last and only poll there did not bode well for him). Rubio is competing in Kansas but seems to have ceded Kentucky.

Puerto Rico comes on Sunday, where it’s likely that Rubio would have the inside track. He is the only candidate to have paid it any mind and he’s received the endorsement of the Republican former governor. There has been no polling, however, and even if he does win it is unlikely that anyone will notice because most people don’t even know Puerto Rico sends delegates.

I am predicting a Trump win, however, because what the hell that’s just the sort of primary it’s been.

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17 Responses to States of the Primary: Super Saturday

  1. Peter says:

    Demographics should favor Cruz. He is a Christian, Trump is not, and Christians are a very big part of the Republican party. For some reason it hasn’t worked that way, at least not yet.

    • Burt Likko says:

      Trump avows Christianity, specifically claiming to be Presbyterian. He is obviously not particularly devout. But he speaks in glowing terms of his home church in Queens. It’s the most beautiful, magnificent church in the whole city, maybe even the whole country.

    • trumwill says:

      The problem for Cruz is that it hasn’t worked for him yet, and the map is about to get progressively worse for him.

      • Michael Drew says:

        Or so we would have thought.

        I think things may be beginning to shift around such that candidate profiles (who their messages have been geared to to date) might get thrown out the window going forward, and dynamics specific to the structure of the race could take over. Specifically, conservatives may just all begin to tumble in for Cruz soon, I suspect, making geographical expectations obsolete.

    • Michael Drew says:

      I would replace Christian with conservative here, and you might have it right. I think conservatives may be about to un-divide themselves in favor of Cruz.

      I think Trump didn’t go to CPAC because of the most audacious of strategies: he’s trying to get nominated by the Republican Party by not being a conservative, by not-conservatives. Mostly nonideologicals. People have said he’s been pivoting to the general long, long before he has the nomination wrapped up, but I think people have misidentified it. In fact, he’s doing something far, far more radical from the perspective of the post-Nixon GOP: he’s actually trying to decouple the GOP from conservatism. That’s why the opposition is so intense – and when you listen to the objections, that’s really what they’re all about.

      • greginak says:

        Plenty of Trumpets are long time Repubs. He isn’t winning the establishment but he is winning R voters. He may be getting some independents but you don’t’ get the votes he has in the R primary without winning R’s.

        • Michael Drew says:

          Notice I didn’t say he was seeking to be nominated by not-Republicans, but by not-conservatives. (And not exclusively. But he’s looking to win by adding a bloc of non-conservatives onto what will be a smaller bloc of conservatives than the next, conventional, candidate will have. Who is now likely to be Ted Cru, who will have the biggest bloc of conservatives.)

        • trumwill says:

          I think Greg is closer to right here.

          Apart from the fact that Trump’s pool of support excludes considerably more of the contemporary left than the contemporary right, it’s hard to place this in a left-right spectrum. Trump has a lot of support among conservatives, and moderates, and everywhere in between. It’s the opposite of Kasich and Cruz, whose support comes disproportionately from one side or the other. (Rubio and Bush are skewed, but more consistent.)

          Likewise, opposition to Trump runs the spectrum, and for largely different reasons. There is nothing close to a singular answer to why “they” oppose Trump. What I see on my feed (which is heavy on the anti-Trump Republicans) runs a spectrum. Some because he’s not really a conservative, some because of the racism, and some because of both.

          It’s an odd coalition that I expect will go back to hating one another whenever this does pass (assuming Trump is not our next president).

        • Michael Drew says:

          I’m not saying no conservatives. But I’m saying Trump’s coalition includes a greater share of not-conservatives than even Kasich’s.

        • greginak says:

          I’m open to being convince Trumpy isn’t just drawing conservatives but i just dont’ see it other then the odd quote for dramatic effect in a column on trump voters. Trump is firing up conservatives who don’t’ hold all the doctrines of the establishment. That may seem like he is getting non-cons, but he is just engaging the conservative coalition from a different and mostly non represented angle.

          C’s were never all hard line free traders and against Gov having a role in health care. If he is making headway with Independents or conservative D’s it is on issues like immigration and re: muslims where his stances are pretty darn hardcore conservative.

        • trumwill says:

          In terms of coalition balance between conservatives and non-conservatives, Trump’s coalition is way more conservative than Kasich’s. It varies from state to state, but so far Trump’s coalition hasn’t even especially bended in the not-conservative way. Certainly not the way that Kasich’s has.

        • Michael Drew says:

          Fair enough. That wasn’t my impression.

          • trumwill says:

            To be fair, I may have given you that wrong impression. I keep forgetting how remarkably consistent he is doing across right side of the ideological spectrum, but then I see the exit polls and remember.

            I think some of it comes from uncertainty about what “conservative” means these days.

        • Michael Drew says:

          I guess I didn’t realize, if it’s the case, that Kasich was getting a particularly high number of not-conservatives, as opposed to moderate conservatives – i.e. people who would tell you that they are conservatives, but who are, well, moderate conservatives.

          And that’s the distinction I’m drawing – people who genuinely consider and call themselves conservatives, especially those who have a fairly developed political ideology about what that means, versus people who don’t have a strong affiliation to that term at all.

  2. Michael Drew says:

    What numbers are you working off of there, WT?

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