The Corner

Politics & Policy

Re: Who Stays?

In response to November Heaven

Kevin — once again we find ourselves facing the same question: Who, if anyone, should now drop out?

It is fashionable tonight to propose that Marco Rubio is “done.” I disagree. In fact, I’d argue that Rubio did not have anything like as bad a night as people are suggesting. Until the exit polls got everyone riled up, it was broadly accepted that the SEC was not Rubio’s stronghold, that he was understandably behind in the polls, and that his primary task was less to win outright than to rack up delegates. He achieved that task, running ahead of his polling almost everywhere and staying neatly within his targets. In fact, one could make a case that he did much better than merely meeting his bottom line: Unexpectedly, he almost won Virginia, securing only one fewer delegate there than did Donald Trump; if current trends continue, he will have won Minnesota outright; and, barring a late collapse, he will have managed to keep himself above 20 percent in at least two of Texas, Tennessee, and Georgia. Ceteris paribus, Rubio will thus leave the evening with a win under his belt and with enough delegates to keep his hand in. Moreover, there is a chance that things will begin to improve for him henceforth. Happily for Rubio, the next set of states look a lot more like Virginia and Minnesota than like Alabama and Texas. And, crucially, his next big fight will be for Florida, his home state and a must-win for the assorted anti-Trump forces. If you were Rubio, would you drop out now? I wouldn’t. Rather, I’d work out how I can stop John Kasich eating away at my margins, and I’d go full-bore at the prize.

Annoyingly for Rubio, though, Cruz also had a good night. Going in, it was imperative that Cruz won Texas, and that he picked up a good number of delegates elsewhere. This he did. Moreover, against the odds, he won neighboring Oklahoma too. There is an argument to be made that Cruz should have done better in the SEC – which was supposed to be his “firewall” – and one can advance a strong case that he is likely to struggle outside of the South and/or those states in which evangelicals are plentiful. And yet these critiques can be swiftly mitigated by the fact that there are probably more Rubio voters who would happily back Cruz than Cruz voters who would happily back Rubio, and that Cruz’s dropping out would therefore be a boon to Trump. If I were Cruz, I’d stay put.

As for Donald Trump . . . well, he did really, really well. He is the clear front-runner and he will be extremely difficult to stop. But he is still not cleaning up. After Nevada, he had 66 percent of all the delegates that had theretofore been awarded; after Super Tuesday he will have around 49 percent — a reduction. As of now, he has still not hit 50 percent anywhere. And, given his position, he is still unusually unpopular among Republicans.

There is still a long way to go in this primary season, and the paths remain unclear. In my view, the best play tomorrow remains the same as the best play yesterday: for both Rubio and Cruz to keep hammering away at Trump until their throats are sore and their eyes are drooping and they are sick of hearing themselves speak. Neither man has any particular reason to call it quits now, so they might as well fight it out until they can no longer credibly go on. That won’t make a particularly good headline, I’ll grant. But it’s where we are nonetheless.

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