For most non-political junkies last night was just another quiet Saturday night. However, in the world of politics, which will determine the trajectory of our country for the next four years, last night might have been the turning point. If Cruz winds up upsetting Trumpmania in this election, last tonight’s largely overlooked contests will have been the Battle of Midway of this nomination war.
Last night’s results consummate the narrative we’ve been observing since Super Tuesday: Cruz is surging and can defeat Donald Trump for the nomination, but if Marco Rubio and John Kasich do not exit the race, Trump will win.
It’s self-evident that had Kasich or Rubio been out of the race, Cruz would have easily won Kentucky.
Here are the 8 key outcomes:
- Cruz is surging: Cruz has demonstrated that he can beat Trump even with a crowded field. His over-performance in every state by as much as 20 point as compared to pre-election polling shows that his Super Tuesday victories and superb debate performance have won over both Rubio and Trump supporters.
- Rubio/Kasich playing spoiler: It’s self-evident that had Kasich or Rubio been out of the race, Cruz would have easily won Kentucky. Trump has siphoned off much of Cruz’s conservative base in rural counties and Cruz needs the full support of urban and suburban Republicans to overcome Trump. As long as a more moderate candidate is in the race, many of these voters will not go with Cruz. But once they are left with a choice between the two, they would have to get behind Cruz. This was borne out in Lexington and Louisville where Rubio siphoned off enough votes in third place to prevent Cruz from winning enough votes needed to counteract Trump’s advantage in rural, eastern Kentucky. In northern Kentucky, which would have otherwise been a stronghold for Cruz, Kasich played spoiler. Due to the Cincinnati media market, the favorite son of Ohio was able to cut into Cruz’s margins. Rubio/Kasich also prevented Cruz from reaching the 50% threshold in Maine to win all the delegates, costing him roughly 11 delegates and giving Trump 9 more.
- Rubio is out of luck: Rubio failed to win 20% in a single state last night. He won just 16.7% in Kansas despite winning the endorsements of all the major Republican officials in the state. Yet, he still siphoned off some delegates from Cruz. Even if Rubio pulls off a miracle and narrowly wins his home state, he has nowhere to grow and is, mathematically speaking, hopelessly behind in the delegate hunt. Narrowly winning your home state means you will likely loose almost everywhere else. There is no rationale for his candidacy.
- Kasich is the new Rubio: Across the map, Kasich is beginning to supplant Rubio as the candidate of choice for more moderate Republican voters. Also, he is likely to win his home state while Rubio will probably lose his home state of Florida. Kasich is also polling well in Michigan. But even if Kasich wins Michigan, he won’t net many delegates out of this crowded field in a purely proportional allocation. He won’t have enough delegates to mount a serious challenge and cannot appeal to conservative voters. By staying in the race for the long run, he could prevent Cruz from winning in important neighboring states like Pennsylvania and Indiana on the back end of the primary calendar. He is playing the role of spoiler.
- Closed caucuses/Primaries matter: All four contests last night were closed to non-Republican members. It is quite evident that Donald Trump does much better with cross-over voters but as the primaries continue, most of the remaining contests are closed. This should help Cruz going forward.
- Early voting is a killer: Donald Trump has been garnering all the media attention and has led the entire race. Thus, most of the early voting benefits him. He crushed Cruz 2-1 in early voting in Louisiana but Cruz won election day voting. This is yet another demonstration of why early voting is fundamentally unfair. In this case, many voters cast ballots before the Cruz surge and debate performance. It also shows that headed forward, Cruz is in good shape to continue winning states that are commencing voting after the debate. It will be interesting to see if Cruz could win election day voting in the neighboring state, Mississippi, on Tuesday, where there is no early voting. There is no early voting in the other three contests that day either: Hawaii, Idaho, and Michigan.
- RNC Rule 40: In order for a candidate to be placed into nomination at the GOP convention, a candidate must win the majority of delegates in at least eight states. After last night’s majority wins in Kansas and Maine, Cruz now has three states under his belt. Trump already won four states with a majority of the delegates prior to last night’s contests.
- Cruz can beat Trump: The biggest takeaway from Saturday is that were the other candidates to drop out, Cruz can easily win in most of the remaining states. Sure, Kasich can win his home state of Ohio, but he can never catch Donald Trump in the delegate count. Were he to drop out, Cruz would have an excellent shot at winning those winner-take-all delegates in Ohio. This week we will find out if those declaring #TrumpNever are good to their word or if they really hate Cruz just as much as Trump.