It was a great night for Ted Cruz, and an encouraging one for opponents of Trump. The Texan won a smashing victory in Kansas and an unexpected one in Maine. Trump took Kentucky and Louisiana, the bigger states today, but only by narrow margins. The finish in Louisiana was particularly noteworthy. Trump had built up a big lead in the early voting, so big that the networks called it for Trump almost immediately on that basis, but Trump’s margin steadily eroded away as the votes that has been cast today came in. This was a sign that something had hurt Trump over the last several days–there are many things to choose from, but the debate looms particularly large. (The divergence between the early voting and the voting today is also a textbook case of why early voting is a bad idea.) Cruz’s big margins in his states and Trump’s narrow margins in his states mean, importantly, that Cruz gained on him a bit in the delegate count.
The other big story was the collapse of Marco Rubio, who wasn’t a factor anywhere. Something has clearly hurt him, whether the tone of his attacks on Trump, Trump’s constant belittling of him, his lackluster debate performance, or all of the above. Absent a surprise on Tuesday or a fantastic debate next week, Rubio is going to be limping into the political fight of his life in Florida a week from Tuesday.
It’d be mistake to make too much of tonight–Cruz’s wins came in caucuses, which favor him because of his organization and the intensity of his support–but it’s possible that Trump’s momentum has been checked, at least for the time being. Outside groups and the non-Trump candidates should consider it progress, and keep the pressure on him on all fronts.