Supporters of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have spent the past couple of months making the case that their preferred candidate is in the best position to dethrone Trump. Backers of the two candidates have made compelling arguments. And as I noted prior to the polls closing on Super Tuesday, many people made calculated voting decisions with the purpose of stopping Trump, depending on how the polling looked in their state, rather than necessarily picking their favorite candidate.
As a Texan, I admit to doing this myself, reluctantly pulling the lever for Cruz despite months of criticizing him for his appeasement of Trump. Although Trump ultimately swept the Super Tuesday states of Georgia, Vermont, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama and Virginia, while Texas, Oklahoma and Alaska went for Cruz and Minnesota went for Rubio, Trump hasn’t yet earned enough delegates to be the Republican nominee outright. This has stoked talk of a possible brokered Republican National Convention, which would lead to a floor fight over which candidate is nominated.
As Jim Ellis of Ellis Insights explained:
“Though Trump has a clear lead in delegates, in no state has he obtained majority support, and in only three did his victories top 40 percent. Therefore, in all but Massachusetts and Alabama, more than 60 percent of voting Republicans have chosen another candidate. Conversely, of the committed delegates through the various state apportionment systems, Trump has secured 46.4 percent of the available delegates.
It appears the March 15 primary day will likely tell the tale. Should Trump win the key Winner-Take-All states of Florida (99 delegates) and Ohio (66 delegates), he will likely be unstoppable.
On the other hand, if his three major opponents strategically form an alliance and allow Rubio to challenge Trump virtually one-on-one in Florida, Kasich to have an unencumbered chance in Ohio, and Cruz the same in North Carolina (also on March 15), and they successfully top the leader in all of those places, the brokered convention becomes a clear reality.”
This presents an interesting scenario to be sure – but it doesn’t seem as though Cruz would be willing to dial back in Florida. After all, Rubio campaigned in Cruz’s home state of Texas – and he still came in a distant third place with 17.7% of the vote to Cruz’s 43.8% and Trump’s 26.7%. Nevertheless, the strategic alliance route to prevent a Trump nomination, if possible to obtain, seems like the best option at this point, especially because Rubio doesn’t show any signs of heeding Cruz’s call for him to drop out of the race.
The truth is, polling shows, as I’ve suspected, that many of Cruz’s supporters would support Trump before Rubio. I assume this has to do with “anti-establishment” sentiments and hardline immigration views. As Kate Grumke wrote at Rare, “When it comes to second choices, more Cruz supporters say they would switch to Trump over Rubio (30% to 21%), according to an NBC News/Survey Monkey poll. But Rubio supporters would actually go to Cruz over Trump (28% to 9%). And Rubio and Cruz are almost tied for second place in many of the upcoming states, which doesn’t exactly pick a clear candidate to drop out.”
I hate to admit it but, as I wrote after the Nevada caucus, it seems like a Trump nomination is highly likely at this point, no matter what the other candidates do. A brokered convention is hypothetically possible but Rubio will have to exceed his polling in Florida by miles. Currently, Real Clear Politics has Trump with 43.3% of the vote in Rubio’s home state, who’s in second with 23.7%. Turns out that fellow Floridian Jeb Bush’s departure didn’t do too much for the junior senator.
If Trump is in fact the nominee, what this means for the future of the Republican Party is still anyone’s guess. As I wrote recently, I tend to believe that Trump won’t open the door to the kind of radical change that would blow up the GOP, as some libertarians and anti-establishment conservatives hope. More likely is that the Party will, with some exceptions, line up behind him and defend his big government agenda. I believe that Chris Christie’s endorsement of Trump, and the way he stood behind him on Super Tuesday, is indicative of that.
It’s true that some high profile elected Republicans are coming out and saying they won’t support Trump if he’s the nominee. Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan and Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia are four such men. But will the rebels be enough to drive the Party? Both Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, the leaders of the GOP in congress, are currently struggling with this – yet have both said they’d support the eventual nominee. Realistically, nobody knows what will come next.