Rubio Quits, Kasich Stays Afloat, And Trump Moves Closer To Being The Inevitable GOP Nominee
A big night in the Republican race for President leaves Donald Trump as the only candidate realistically situated to be anywhere near a majority of delegates by the time the primaries end in June.
Donald Trump won at least three of the five states at stake on what was arguably the most important night of the 2016 primary season, and stands poised to narrowly win a fourth that seemed like it would fall into Ted Cruz’s pocket, while home state candidates Marco Rubio and John Kasich saw their fortunes go in entirely different directions:
Donald J. Trump rolled to victory in the Republican presidential primaries in Florida, Illinois and North Carolina on Tuesday, driving Senator Marco Rubio from the race and amassing a formidable delegate advantage that will be exceedingly difficult for any rival to overcome.
But with a victory in Ohio, his home state, Gov. John Kasich denied Mr. Trump one of the night’s biggest prizes and made it harder for him to clinch the nomination outright before primary voting ends in June.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas finished second in Illinois and North Carolina and was locked in a tight race with Mr. Trump in Missouri, ensuring that he, too, would earn a share of delegates.
Mr. Trump has faced mounting criticism from Republicans for the vitriolic tone of his candidacy, but he struck a defiant note Tuesday night, describing himself proudly as a candidate of the angry and disaffected. “There is great anger,” he said. “Believe me, there is great anger.”
Republicans opposed to Mr. Trump believe that Tuesday’s results may have increased their chances of denying him the nomination at the party’s convention in Cleveland. But they are left with a pair of deeply flawed alternatives: Mr. Cruz, who has the second-most delegates but is reviled by many party leaders, and Mr. Kasich, who has so far run the equivalent of a favorite-son campaign, winning only Ohio.
Mr. Kasich must now strain for a larger role in a Republican contest in which he has largely competed in obscurity. In his Tuesday night speech, he did not take on Mr. Trump by name, but said he would carry his own message of uplift “all the way to Cleveland.”
“It’s been my intention to make you proud,” Mr. Kasich told a roaring crowd in Berea, Ohio, adding a favorite line: “I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land.”
Despite Mr. Kasich’s victory in Ohio, Mr. Cruz made another attempt on Tuesday to define the Republican race as the head-to-head contest he has long sought with Mr. Trump.
“After tonight, America has a clear choice going forward,” Mr. Cruz said once again, nodding to Mr. Rubio’s withdrawal. “Only one campaign has beaten Donald Trump over and over and over again.”
Mr. Trump remains the dominant figure in the race, however: His performance in Florida earned him 99 delegates and made a resounding statement about the appeal of his hard-edged populism in the country’s most sought-after swing state.
Mr. Rubio, addressing supporters in Miami, acknowledged that his campaign had been overwhelmed by an angry mood in the Republican electorate. In detached and clinical language, he said it had been impossible to repel the long-term political forces powering Mr. Trump.
“America’s in the middle of a real political storm — a real tsunami,” he said. “And we should have seen this coming.”
After congratulating Mr. Trump, Mr. Rubio essentially scolded him for the kind of campaign he has run.
“From a political standpoint, the easiest thing to have done in this campaign is to jump on all those anxieties,” Mr. Rubio warned in a valedictory address that at times sounded more like a policy seminar. “But that is not what’s best for America,” he added. “The politics of resentment against other people are not going to just leave us as a fractured party. They’re going to leave us as a fractured nation.”
Despite his triumph over Mr. Rubio, Mr. Trump was thwarted in his efforts to drive a second mainstream Republican rival from the race. Mr. Kasich’s victory in Ohio dealt Mr. Trump a stinging blow, preventing him from claiming the state’s 66 delegates and significantly increasing the chances that the Republican race will not be decided until the July convention.
It was the latest twist in an extraordinary campaign. Just three weeks ago, Republican leaders were complaining that Mr. Kasich, who until Tuesday had not won a single state, was ensuring Mr. Trump’s nomination by remaining in the race. Now, he has revived hopes throughout the party that Mr. Trump can be stopped.
Mr. Kasich’s victory in Ohio also shined a light on a nagging difficulty for Mr. Trump, and one of the Republican race’s most revealing divides: the class fault line. While Mr. Trump won among voters who earn less than $50,000 a year, Mr. Kasich overwhelmed him by more 30 percentage points among Ohioans who make more than $100,000.
Despite his Ohio win, Mr. Kasich was likely to emerge with fewer than 150 delegates over all — less than Mr. Rubio’s total. He alluded to heading west in “a covered wagon” and competing in California on June 7.
But in an important strategic signal, he also rolled out a list of longtime Republican insiders, some of them with experience in convention battles, who could be expected to press his case in Cleveland.
Mr. Kasich, after all, remains far behind Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz in the delegate battle, and he has not come close to winning outside a small handful of states.
Mr. Trump’s performance in North Carolina was a reminder of his enduring strength in the South, but he was likely to take only a handful more delegates from the state than Mr. Cruz, who finished second, because North Carolina allocates its 72 delegates on a proportional basis.
Mr. Trump fared better in Illinois, where most delegates are allocated by congressional district. After making headlines for canceling a rally that nearly became a riot on Friday in Chicago, Mr. Trump easily won Cook County and appeared poised to take most of the delegates in the city. And while Mr. Cruz seemed likely to capture at least one congressional district downstate, Mr. Trump also showed strength across much of southern Illinois.
In a scenario that once would have been unthinkable for mainstream Republicans, they are now largely relying on Mr. Cruz, who made his name in the Senate vilifying party leaders, to slow Mr. Trump’s march to the 1,237 delegates he needs.
National Republican leaders had held out hope that Mr. Rubio could mount a comeback in Florida and challenge Mr. Trump for the nomination. But Mr. Rubio’s loss extinguished that possibility and left a multi-ballot convention fight this summer as mainstream Republicans’ last avenue to block Mr. Trump with a more palatable alternative.
In reality, of course, Marco Rubio’s campaign was over long before last night, and it can largely be blamed on the fact that Rubio himself never seemed to settle on a campaign strategy, and never really seemed to have a clear path to victory even as the Republican and conservative establishment rallied around him as the last, best hope for stopping the momentum of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, neither of whom is exactly palatable to the establishment. After entering the race with a diminished profile thanks to the fact that his support for immigration reform had soured many hard core conservatives who had enthusiastically supported him in 2010, Rubio’s star seemingly started to rise in October and November as he slowly picked up endorsements and the support of megadonors who had been sitting on the sidelines. By January, though, supporters began to ask questions about his campaign strategy given the fact that it did not appear to be focused at all on any of the traditional early states. As it turned out, that strategy turned out to be an utter failure, as Rubio largely failed to win anywhere other than in minor contests that the other candidates had chosen to ignore, such as the contests in Minnesota, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. In reality, though, the real end of the Rubio candidacy arguably came in the debate just prior to the New Hampshire Primary where Rubio found himself the target of virtually all the candidates thanks in no small part to his surprisingly strong finish in the Iowa Caucuses and the perception that he could take that momentum and build on it headed into New Hampshire and South Carolina. Instead, Rubio melted under the studio lights and, in particular, a withering cross-examination style attack from Chris Christie that Rubio never really recovered from. After that night, Rubio slipped from being a contender in New Hampshire to finishing in fifth place, and the rest is history. Perhaps Rubio will make a comeback at some point, he is after all still a young man and others in his position have had second lives in American politics before, but for now the man who was the biggest star of the Senate Class of 2010 will be heading back to Florida and an uncertain future.
Where Rubio found his home state to be the end of his campaign, Ohio Governor found just the opposite in the Buckeye State. For the most part, of course, Kasich has been an afterthought in the race for President whose presence on the stage was often a mystery to many. Up until last night, the best the Ohio Governor had done was second place in New Hampshire and Vermont, surprise showings that he owes by and large to his decision to basically concentrate all his campaign efforts on New Hampshire from the moment he got in the race in August. While he was largely a non-factor everywhere else, that strategy worked well enough that it guaranteed him a spot on the main stage in every Republican debate and exposure to a national audience that otherwise wouldn’t have any idea who he was. All along, Kasich remained confident and said that his strategy was to focus on winning his home state, along with other Midwestern states, and to carry those victories into the Spring and contests in the West and Mid-Atlantic. As it stands, though, Kasich failed to win Michigan, stands in a position in the delegate count where he is likely to finish with fewer delegates than even Marco Rubio, and largely mathematically eliminated from reached the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination. So, yes, Kasich won his home state but it’s hard to see where goes from here.
If there was another loser last night other than Marco Rubio, it was Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who finds the central argument for his campaign increasingly being called into doubt. The worst of all possible worlds for Cruz, of course, would have been if Trump had won both Florida and Ohio since that would have made any hope of forcing a contested convention largely a fantasy, but last night’s result throw all of that into question. First of all, John Kasich’s victory in Ohio means that he’s likely to stay in the race until the bitter end, a prospect which will make it easier for Donald Trump to win many of the states in the coming months that will allocate their delegates on a Winner Take All basis, thus denying Cruz the one-on-one race against Trump that he’s been craving. More immediately, though, Trump’s clear victories in North Carolina and Illinois, where the Cruz campaign at least had hoped to be competitive, and his apparent victory in Missouri, which remains too close for most news agencies to call, means that Cruz has yet to show that he can win a non-caucus state outside of his home state and neighboring Oklahoma. Given this, as well as the fact that the race is now headed into states where Cruz is arguably not likely to do well, there’s a good case that can be made that Cruz’s time has passed and there’s little that he can do to stop Donald Trump from being the nominee.
In the end, of course, all that matters is the delegate count, and when you look at those numbers, it seems fairly clear where the Republican nomination is headed, although these numbers are likely to become much more favorable to Trump once the final calculation of delegate allocation in Illinois and Missouri is completed. So far, Donald Trump has won 46.41% of the pledged delegates that have been awarded, compared to 29.60% for Ted Cruz, and 10.31% for John Kasich, with Marco Rubio standing just ahead of Kasich at 12.56%. With 1,134 delegates remaining to be chosen, Donald Trump would need to win 54.32% of those delegates to get to the 1,237 majority needed to win the nomination on the first ballot. Ted Cruz, on the other hand, would need to win 74.16% of the remaining delegates, a virtual impossibility, and John Kasich would need to win 96.91% of the remaining delegates, which is essentially a mathematical impossibility. Given the fact that the largest number of Republican primaries going forward are Winner Take All or some variation on that which awards delegates based both on who wins the state overall and who wins each of the state’s Congressional Districts, the odds that Trump can actually get to the majority he needs, or very close, are fairly good, and the odds that he can credibly be denied the nomination recede further and further with each victory. More importantly, even if Trump falls short of the majority he needs, it is likely that he will be very, very close to that majority while his likely closest competitor, Ted Cruz, will fall far short. At that point, denying the nomination to the person who has seemingly come the closest to winning the nomination outright would be a public relations disaster for the GOP that would, arguably, fracture the party even more than a Trump candidacy would. So, while it isn’t certain, the prospect of Donald Trump being the Republican nominee is now more likely than any other outcome in this race. What that means for the GOP going forward is anyone’s guess.