Last night, we observed how Rubio’s supporters, the very people who said that we need to unite around the second place finisher to beat Trump, are refusing to honor their own commitment. I’d like to expand on this point and demonstrate how Rubio has already handed Trump a delegate lead and how the Florida senator will likely make that lead insurmountable if he doesn’t exit the race.
It’s incontrovertibly clear that Rubio has no path to coming anywhere close to Trump in the delegate count, both because of the math and because you can’t be the man who seized the anti-establishment mantle with an establishment guy. By staying in the race, Rubio denied Cruz an outright sweep of all of Texas’s 155 delegates. Cruz was only 6% shy of the 50% trigger to win all the delegates, yet he was stymied by Rubio siphoning off 17%. The same dynamic played out in Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Arkansas, where Cruz could have netted many more delegates with Rubio out of the race. Rubio has consistently hauled away about a quarter of the evangelical vote. Cruz could have caught Trump in the delegate count last night, even at the height of Trump’s strength – before Cruz goes up against him mano-a-mano.
Rubio Playing Spoiler Until March 15th
The race’s current dynamic is going to continue playing out over the next few weeks. Rubio is the perfect spoiler. While he can never win enough delegates nor capture enough of the core base, he has a high floor of support.
Thanks to the full support of the establishment, Fox News serving as his private super pac, endless endorsements and favorite sons stacking the deck for him in almost every state, and his talent and energy as a politician, Rubio will consistently win 15-20% wherever he goes, even if he gets crushed in his home state of Florida. Rubio cannot win any major state, even his home state, but he can always do well enough to siphon off votes and delegates from Cruz and stop the Texas Senator from closing the deficit with Trump. He has the revered Tom Coburn supporting him in Oklahoma, all major statewide elected Republicans in Tennessee, and Asa Hutchinson in Arkansas. This will continue in every state.
The notion that we would waste the next two weeks’ worth of primaries splitting the vote just so Rubio can lose his home state on March 15 is suicide for anyone who wants to stop Trump. There are 347 delegates at stake from now until March 15 and Rubio will continue preventing Cruz from running up the margins. For example, Cruz should do well in Kansas and Louisiana on Saturday. But Rubio will have Jindal playing interference in Louisiana and all the elected politicians in Kansas backing him there. Even if Cruz wins, the margin of victory will be diminished and he won’t net enough delegates to start making up the deficit against Trump.
Not all Brokered Conventions are Created Equal
So how could the establishment justify Rubio remaining in the race)? The new narrative essentially concedes the point that Rubio will lose Florida. But they contend that at this point nobody will likely garner a majority of the delegates (1237) and that the goal has now moved towards denying Trump the majority and forcing a brokered convention. Following this line of thought, the establishment asserts it is better to keep everyone in the race and further dilute Trump’s margins in the states that allocate the delegates proportionately.
This line of thought is extremely flawed and dangerous.
First, there is a big difference between the outcome of a Cruz vs. Trump race for the rest of the race and that of a 5-ring circus. There is a lot more leverage to stop Trump if Cruz and Trump are essentially tied at 1,000 delegates apiece vs. a scenario where everyone stays in and seriously contests the race until the end. Let’s say that strategy would result in the following outcome:
In this scenario, there will be much less leverage to stop Trump from claiming a mandate.
Furthermore, this runs much deeper than a math game. The case for Cruz over a circus race is more than math, it’s a science. Conservatives must understand why we are confronted with a Trump nomination to begin with in order to understand how to defeat it. Trump is winning so far because he has swamped the media coverage and has taken advantage of a perfect storm of environment, packaging, persona, and name recognition. He has stolen the conservative base and seized the mantle of the conservative outsider who will fight the establishment. In other words, he is perceived as what Ted Cruz actually is.
If we continue with this circus, the narrative of the race in the eyes of conservative voters will continue along the same path. They will see a new and exciting outsider against a cabal of politicians. And thanks to the media coverage, Cruz will never have the ability to stand out. The establishment will continue attacking Trump from the left or call him a racist, only further enraging his supporters or those on the fence. Just tomorrow, Mitt Romney plans to deliver “a major speech” on the election. It doesn’t take a genius that this will help, not hurt, Donald Trump.
Sure, the establishment might win the math game and deny Trump the majority, but Trump would never have been defeated in the hearts and minds of the voters. Stripping the man who won overwhelmingly of the nomination will irrevocably split the party and will make millions of voters feel disenfranchised beyond the disconnect they already feel. They will perceive this entire scheme as an establishment plot to steal the nomination and replace Trump with some banal political elite at the convention. Cruz will be thrown in the mix and be perceived as part of the problem. This will exacerbate the problem; it will never solve it.
Contrast the circus scenario to the Cruz mano-a-mano scenario. Once the race becomes a two man battle it’s no longer Trump vs. the boring politicians. The entire focus of the race will finally turn to litigating who is the true outsider. With more closed primaries and more facts coming out about Trump, only Cruz standing alone can win back the hearts and minds of so many voters who want to blow up the party. At that point Cruz will begin outright defeating Trump. The weakness of Trump among voters who decided over the final week across the country is proof of this vulnerability.
And even if Cruz falls short of an outright win, he can catch Trump in the delegate count. Cruz is only behind by about 100 delegates. But more importantly, Trump will be losing the hearts and minds of voters and only holding on thanks to the proportionality of delegates. How different is this from the establishment’s scenario in which Trump will continue to win, albeit stripped of the requisite delegates to clinch it.
Cruz would therefore enter the convention with as many or more delegates than Trump and with the momentum of actually having defeated The Donald in the second half of the race. Most of the base will come home. And even among those who still like Trump after three months of Cruz exposing him and after the drip-drip of his personal baggage, most would find Cruz an acceptable alternative. They will never find an establishment pick at a brokered convention with Trump way ahead to be an acceptable outcome.
Unfortunately, in the eyes of most of the establishment and elite conservatives, a Cruz nomination is just as bad or even worse than a Trump nomination. They would rather lead in hell than follow a man like Cruz in heaven.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.