In this typically illuminating piece, Sean Trende notes how Trump’s opponents have always been a couple of steps behind him.
Let’s count the ways (with the benefit of lots of hindsight):
In retrospect, Jeb Bush should have gotten out at Thanksgiving. He would have avoided cannibalizing non-Trump votes in early contests with little hope of winning himself and spending countless of millions of dollars against non-Trump targets, Marco Rubio foremost among them.
In retrospect, Rubio should have dropped out a week before Florida and endorsed Ted Cruz. It is unlikely that Cruz could have won Florida, but at least Rubio would have avoided almost certainly costing Cruz Missouri and North Carolina.
These wouldn’t have been easy decisions for Bush or Rubio. They would have required a boldness, foresight and self-sacrifice almost impossible to imagine — except perhaps in a year when the unimaginable is happening every other day.
Now, there’s John Kasich, who apparently believes he can come up the middle at a contested convention. But the cost of pursuing this highly unlikely scenario is, according to Trende’s analysis, probably handing Trump 1,237, so there won’t be any contested convention to turn to Kasich. Trende writes of two scenarios that he ran and the differences between them:
The outcome is fairly stark. Under the first scenario [with Kasich staying in the race], Trump wins 1,296 delegates and clinches the nomination on the last day of primary voting.
Under the second, Kasich-less scenario, however, Trump has 1,125 delegates, while Cruz collects 899. Given that under the second scenario, Cruz rattles off a string of wins at the end, and given the fact that Rubio’s and Kasich’s 300 delegates would probably disproportionately gravitate toward Cruz, this would likely be enough deny Trump the nomination.
It very well could be that a timely Kasich exit or a Kasich deal with Cruz will be yet another of the “what ifs” on Trump’s road to the nomination.