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Three ways to go.

Well, and so, South Carolina has voted, on the Other Party’s Side, and then there were three. Or four or five. Depending on how you count. I wrote back before Iowa about scenarios that seemed plausible to me and unfortunately for the Republic, we are closer to the one where Donald Trump is the nominee than to the others. In part, that’s because Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio underperformed the 538 prediction for New Hampshire at that time. Then, after the New Hampshire primary, I wrote that most of the candidates did just about the least they could do to still remain viable. That part didn’t happen in South Carolina, in that Jeb Bush not only isn’t viable but isn’t running any more, and John Kasich isn’t, I think, really viable any more even if he is running. So things are a bit different than they were. Still, there’s a plausible scenario for each of the three remaining viable candidates, and I think they’re awfully close to equal.

First, Donald Trump. You don’t really need to sketch out a scenario for a candidate who comes in second in Iowa and then wins New Hampshire and South Carolina: he keeps winning, and comes in second where he doesn’t win. That’s pretty much it. I had pegged his ceiling among actual voters to be around 25%, and then 30%, and now it’s around 33%, and, well, maybe it’s 50% or 55% or 60% or more. Who knows? Certainly the implications of polls that ask second-choice seem to indicate a low ceiling, and one would think that his massive television celebrity would mean that people have had plenty of time to make up their minds about him, and of course he has insulted a large portion of his potential constituency, and as well he has never managed to do as well in places where the campaigns have run than he polls nationally, but on the other hand, people are very bad at predicting who they will vote for and why. The notion that Mr. Trump will eventually lose is based on the same sorts things that made me think Mr. Trump wouldn’t do as well has he has done, and those have let me down so far.

Second, Marco Rubio. This is an obvious path: Ted Cruz couldn’t beat him in South Carolina and therefore won’t beat him in Georgia, Oklahoma or Virginia, and the rest of the establishment will run toward him to make him the not-Trump candidate. Once Sen. Cruz drops out (after Sen. Rubio wins not only his homestate of Florida but also North Carolina on March 15) we discover that Mr. Trump’s ceiling really is about a third, and Sen. Rubio cruises to victory. The obvious establishment candidate wins. That’s barely even a story.

Then there’s Ted Cruz. This is a little harder to see, but not much. He needs Marco Rubio to make some sort of gaffe or put in a poor public performance somewhere (Another debate? Is there going to be another debate this week?) and then he needs to come in ahead of him in Georgia, Oklahoma and Virginia. Marco Rubio is 44 years old; he could very reasonably decide that this is not his year, but that he has laid a good groundwork for 2020 or even 2024, when he will only be 52, and that ending the campaign for the good of the party would get him some goodwill. At that point, it’s a two-person race, and while Ted Cruz would need to pick up establishment votes and money, he could well benefit from Mr. Trump’s inherent Trumpness.

I’ll add as well that there are now 52 Republican Senators not running for President as well as 30 Republican Governors not running for President, of whom a total of twelve have made endorsements of a current candidate. Any one endorsement may not be a big deal (some are bigger than others, of course) but there are seventy big-name endorsements yet to come (in addition to House leaders and retired statewide office-holders) and that’s a lot. I have been surprised by their slowness in this cycle, but we are approaching a point after which the endorsement will not earn the endorser much in the way of candidate gratitude, aren’t we? I am thinking, here, that Ted Cruz could particularly make use of three or four Senators going on to TV and radio telling people that this stuff about how everyone hating him is bullshit, that he is a dedicated, disciplined and passionate Conservative and they respect him for that as well as for his rough edges, and that they enthusiastically support him and endorse him. That changes the story quite a bit. Similar endorsements for Marco Rubio don’t change his story, but they might make it harder for Ted Cruz to change his story. Well, we’ll see, I suppose.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

Nothing specifically on-topic here, but I wanted to mention that I really do appreciate these posts. After the Bush/Kerry year, I realized that reading Big Political Blogs was generally a bad idea for me, but it's good not to be completely out of touch. You have a voice in these that's just enough inside-baseball without falling down the rabbit hole and, importantly, calm but not pallative.


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