Members of the conservative intelligentsia are all pulling their hair out over Donald Trump. For the entire week, they lectured us on the need to save the Republic and stop Donald Trump from destroying it. They told us that whoever comes in third place tonight must drop out so the second place winner can have a shot at consolidating support to beat Trump. It is clear that anyone who held that view coming into tonight’s election desiring to retain a shred of intellectual honesty must call on Rubio to drop out.
First, let’s say off the bat that Trump was still the clear winner tonight – both in states and delegates. No matter what happens he will be tough to beat. Name ID matters and Trump has gotten an incalculable degree of media coverage over the past year.
However, there are signs of vulnerability. In almost every state, according to exit polls, the late deciders broke against Trump. In Oklahoma, a closed primary state where Democrats can’t vote and where Cruz actually spent some time and money getting his message out, Trump was beaten pretty uniformly across the state. If Trump continues to deflate and someone goes up against him mano-a-mano, the Donald can at least be challenged for his plurality in the delegate lead going into the convention.
What is also clear is that, while it will be hard for anyone to beat Trump, there is zero chance of him being beaten with Rubio and Cruz (and Carson) splitting the opposition. Of the two, who should be the person tasked with taking down Trump?
Rubio dominated the media coverage and endorsements for the entire week, yet he failed to win a single significant state (except for Minnesota). He is also way behind in the delegate count. Had Cruz performed as badly as Rubio tonight there would be unanimity of opinion that Cruz must drop out. The conservative pundits said that the third place finisher tonight should drop out. It’s time for them to honor their own commitment. Needless to say, Carson is siphoning off a tremendous amount of votes in conservative areas and needs to be forced out of the race. But watch for the media to avoid asking him tough questions.
Bottom line: there is no way someone can seriously contend that Trump must be defeated at all costs and still refuse to call upon the others to leave the race. In addition to winning states and having the second most delegates, Cruz is the only one who can win back enough of the conservative voters Trump is winning, as witnessed by Oklahoma and as demonstrated by Cruz’s speech tonight. Not only does Rubio lack the ability to make inroads to those voters, but many of Cruz’s voters would go to Trump instead of Rubio were Cruz to drop out. In the eyes of most Republican voters, Rubio represents the very illness that has given rise to Trumpmania.
Rubio’s supporters (and his undocumented supporters in the conservative media) are saying that at this point the game is to deny Trump the majority of the delegates and fight on at the convention. As such, Rubio should just stay in and magnify that effort. But it appears that Rubio is going to miss the threshold for delegates in Tennessee, Vermont, Texas, and Alabama. He barely netted anything from his second place showing in Virginia. He lost to Cruz in every state where both of them strongly competed. And while Cruz crushed it in his home state, Rubio is about to get slammed in his own home state of Florida. How could he lose his home state and have any credibility against Trump? Yet, if we wait until March 15 for him to lose, Trump will continue to rack up more victories with a divided opposition.
So at this point, the Florida Senator is just siphoning off votes from Cruz without winning a significant amount of delegates. Rubio might end the night under 100 delegates.
Cruz has amassed a tremendous amount of money to go one-on-one with Trump in the long-run and a two-man race would change the entire narrative of the race. Trump could no longer standout as the only man tapping into the outrage relative to a crowded field of “politicians.”
Tomorrow morning we will find out whether our conservative friends in the media really want to defeat Trump or whether they care more about perpetuating the status quo. It will be a time for choosing.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.