Ohio loss staves off Trump for another week

This week:

  • Florida result shows Rubio’s campaign ended two weeks too late
  • Trump’s big win wasn’t in Florida — it was in Illinois and Missouri
  • Kasich win in Ohio preserves a path to stopping Trump

President 2016

This week’s races:

Arizona (58): Winner-take-all.

Utah (40): Delegates are distributed proportionally, unless one candidate gets a majority (50 percent) in which case he gets all of them.

Rubio’s Potemkin Campaign: Three important developments occurred last Tuesday. Let’s look at the first. As fully expected, Donald Trump defeated Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in Florida by a large margin.

Rubio’s apparent lack of get-out-the-vote effort outside Miami-Dade County was quite obvious. The outcome, in fact, makes it quite clear that Rubio had no business staying in the race after March 1. He was running a Potemkin campaign.

Politico’s postmortem on Rubio confirms all of the reservations we had expressed previously about Rubio’s operation. It had failed to invest properly in a ground game.

We noted previously that there was something wrong with Rubio’s operation.

It seemed half-cocked. But we had not imagined that the neglect was so trump_cruzcomplete. Rubio had already missed out on delegates in several states because he narrowly failed to reach the minimum threshold for taking them. This was a sign that there were problems. Another sign cropped up in Georgia, where Rubio received more votes than Ted Cruz but got fewer delegates, because he had opted to run up the score in a couple of congressional Districts instead of targeting voters more strategically. Rubio also narrowly missed a potentially important morale-building victory in Virginia.

Compare this to Cruz’s campaign and its very competent data operation. Cruz hasn’t always won, obviously, but a quick look at the map shows how he has consistently figured out where to drive up his vote totals in order to maximize his number of delegates.

Rubio’s problem was that he only had a shell of a campaign to speak of. The map of Florida looks like a shoddily completed homework assignment, which Rubio had months to complete but instead did everything at the last minute. He simply had no business remaining in the race so long.

Rubio’s campaign ran up the score in his home county, which he won with 63 percent of the vote. It seems to have done nothing else in his entire home state. There was only one other populous county (Orange) where he even cracked 30 percent, and just barely.

Based on the final map of Florida, it is clear that Rubio should have dropped out of the race long before he did, and that he bears part of the blame if Trump takes the nomination because his presence on the ballot in Missouri and Illinois hugely benefited Trump (more on this below).

The Rubio strategy was arrogant. In a way it made sense, though — only not for him.

Rubio’s strategists believed, rightly, that they had a good, telegenic and intelligent candidate. They felt their best use of resources was to put him on television a lot, to put his face and voice in front of as many voters as possible. This would generate so much enthusiasm that they wouldn’t be able to help but vote for him. This was the rationale for running a media campaign plan that skimped on the traditional nuts and bolts of voter contact and door-knocking.

The problem with this strategy proved to be that another candidate was much better at it. With one outrageous statement after another, Trump came to dominate media coverage, and for him there was no such thing as bad publicity. He thus usurped the position Rubio had hoped to occupy, and caught fire by doing exactly what Rubio had hoped to do but couldn’t.

Rubio, meanwhile, had none of the traditional campaign machinery to fall back on after his dodgy debate performance in New Hampshire. From there out, Rubio’s campaign was running on fumes because there was no plan B to prop him up.

If he had dropped out after his disappointing Super Tuesday performance, he might have been spared the embarrassment of getting crushed in his home state. Who knows? Perhaps Cruz’s campaign, which has a solid, competent data operation, could have made a full push in the Sunshine State in his absence. Cruz’s campaign had noticed the non-existence of Rubio’s ground operation, and in this context Cruz’s brief flirtation with Florida makes a lot more sense.

Hang on Sloopy: The one thing saving Republicans from Trump for the CIB042015-Kasichmoment, aside from his surprisingly poor performance in North Carolina (he took only 30 of 72 delegates), was John Kasich’s expected victory in his home state of Ohio.

There is an argument that Kasich’s continued presence in the race helps Trump — he surely would have dropped out if he’d lost. But Ohio’s 66 delegates probably would have helped Trump a lot more. If Rubio can be blamed for Trump’s success in Illinois and Missouri, he can be thanked for encouraging his voters to go for Kasich in Ohio, which they did in large numer — a gesture that Kasich’s campaign did not acknowledge gracefully.

To be sure, Kasich can hurt Cruz if he tries, and his foray into Utah suggests he won’t hesitate to do it if it nets him a few extra delegates. But depending on the results in coming weeks, Trump could finish anywhere from 100 delegates short of a majority to 50 past it. Those 66 delegates from Ohio really would have helped him.

What’s more, there’s little evidence that Kasich voters would go for Cruz if Kasich were to drop out.

Rubio and Cruz occupied the same lane in many important senses except for immigration — that of Reagan conservatism. Kasich is trying to occupy Trump’s lane on other issues, and in Ohio he had a lot of success doing so. He was big with crossover Democrats, and he ate into Trump’s natural advantage with blue collar voters. He went toe-to-toe with Trump among voters who make less than $50,000 per year. He nearly tied Trump among voters don’t have college degrees (38 to 43 percent), and trounced him among those who do.

The conventional view of Kasich had been that he occupies a moderate lane all his own, but this is partly a misunderstanding of Trump’s appeal. Although he represents something new and more radical in some respects, Trump also takes the lane of the less ideological and mostly extinct Rockefeller Republicanism of decades past. In that sense, Kasich offers something to voters who want Trump but without the massive ego, xenophobia, incitements to violence and sexism.

Kasich will also be capable of carrying some congressional districts in California and New York where Cruz is less competitive. Most of California’s delegates (the primary is June 7) are awarded on a winner-take-all basis by congressional district.

Of course, that presupposes that the two would actually work together. By June, that might be an imperative if either hopes to go to convention.

Illinois and Missouri: This was the real Trump victory of Tuesday night — hidden in plain sight. Trump did not win Missouri by much, nor even Illinois, but he dominated the delegate count, mostly thanks to the fact that Rubio was still in the race.

With just under 39 percent of the vote, Trump managed to get 54 of Illinois’ 69 delegates (78 percent), 57 of which were awarded based on totals at the congressional district level.

In Missouri, Rubio got nearly 60,000 votes. Ted Cruz lost to Trump statewide by less than 2,000 votes, and came within 3,000 votes of him in three of the six congressional districts that Trump won. The result was that Trump got 37 delegates to Cruz’s 15, even though the two got nearly the same number of votes..

These two states are what made Trump’s totals look so good for March 15:

Trump: 210

Not Trump: 138

For a grand total of:

Trump: 678

Not Trump: 755

Democrats: As a side note, Hillary Clinton could have lost all the March 15 states and remained a prohibitive frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. She won them all.

The only question at this point in the Democratic primary is whether Sanders can lose the nomination based only on superdelegates — the party mandarins who are given the ability to vote however they like at convention. His best hope lies in the fact that the South has all voted now, and he has performed much better in the North.

Such an outcome could demoralize the Democratic base, but a Trump nomination probably moots this and makes Clinton the next president either way.


This week’s races:


Arizona: A winner take all contest where Trump seems to have the lead. Rubio banked a substantial number of early votes during the 26-day early voting period, too, and that harms the effort to stop Trump.

Unless undecided and former Rubio voters coalesce behind Cruz, Trump will win here. He has the endorsements he should need, including that of former Gov. Jan Brewer, R, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

The state’s large Mormon population will go heavily for Cruz, but this isn’t Utah — they are a minority.


Utah: In general, Republicans who attend church are less likely to vote for Trump. But Mormons absolutely detest the man, as the early verdict out of Idaho’s eastern counties demonstrates.

Trump will finish third in Utah, that is certain. He may only just barely surpass 10 percent. The real question is whether Cruz hits 50 percent (he probably will). If he does, Trump will get no delegates. If he doesn’t, Trump might get as many as five out of the 40.