As far as the Donald Trump situation, I doubt I can tell you much that you don’t already know. He is now the heavy favorite to become the Republican nominee. And since his support continues to grow, it is necessary to acknowledge the possibility that he could become president.
Nevada is not a particularly big or important state. And only four states this year have held primaries or caucuses, none of them particularly big. So, Trump leads in delegates by a huge margin. He has 81. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are tied with 17 each. But it takes 1,237 delegates to clinch the nomination. So, if the political momentum changes, there are plenty of contests and plenty of delegates out there for someone else to be nominated. 595 delegates are at stake Tuesday when 12 states hold Republican primaries. So, just to belabor the obvious, plenty of mathematical scenarios exist for someone to catch up with Trump.
But not all mathematical scenarios are politically realistic. Trump is ahead in the polls in most of those states. The big exception is Texas, which is the biggest Super Tuesday state and where Cruz leads in the latest poll of which I’m aware. But Cruz is a Texan, and he leads Trump in Texas by just 37-29 percent. While winning in your home state is important, and Cruz will be basically finished if he loses in Texas, you don’t gain much momentum or credibility by carrying your home state.
Even if Cruz wins Texas, if Trump wins the overwhelming majority of Super Tuesday states, the chances of anyone overtaking him will start to approach negligible, not as a matter of pure math but as a matter of political reality.
The old narrative — that once the field dwindles and Cruz or Rubio gets to compete with Trump one-on-one, one of the senators might start beating him — took a hit Tuesday night. While Trump won in New Hampshire with 35.3 percent and South Carolina by 32.5, he surged to 45.9 percent in Nevada, more than the support for Rubio and Cruz combined.
Phenomenal for Trump
The entrance polls were phenomenal for Trump. A couple of weeks ago, the big insight on Trump’s support was that it was based on young men without college degrees. In Nevada, he won among men and women, among those with and those without college degrees. He finished first among both genders, all age groups over 30 and all income classes. The entrance polls also showed that a huge portion of caucus attendees consider themselves “angry” or “dissatisfied,” which is almost all a code for Trump red meat. A supermajority told the pollsters that they would prefer someone from outside the political establishment.
Keep repeating, this is one poll from one small state. But there’s little reason to surmise that Republicans in other states are not angry and fed up with what they consider the establishment. Trump beat Cruz (as he did in South Carolina) among those who consider themselves evangelical Christians, which is supposed to be Cruz’s base.
Unlike some who opine on the tube, I don’t claim to know the future. But it’s harder and harder to imagine how Rubio or Cruz overcomes the trends. Trump’s support is growing, and has grown fairly steadily from the beginning.
That’s also a cautionary note to Democrats who may be secretly rooting for Trump as the nominee because they believe his support has a ceiling and he will be the least electable Republican nominee. Be careful what you wish for. Yes, it’s true that in theoretical matchup polls between Trump and either of the Democratic candidates, Trump loses. (In the most recent such poll of which I’m aware, by Fox News and curated by Real Clear Politics, Hillary Clinton beats Trump by just 47-42 percent, while Bernie Sanders beats him by 53-38.
But you should note that the number of those polled, in general, who say they would never vote for Trump under any circumstances keeps falling. Be careful what you wish for.
A few other notes from Tuesday night:
Trump was in what passes for “gracious” mode in his victory statement. But that’s grading on the curve. He suggested that the next two months of more primary wins for him would be “amazing,” but then added: “We might not even need the whole two months.”
He added a note of altruistic rapacity (yes, that’s an oxymoron) to his familiar statement that while he has been “greedy” all his life for himself, he now wants a chance to be “greedy for the United States.” In a new ending (at least new to me) explaining how that nationalistic greed would work, Trump said: “We’re just gonna grab and grab and grab.” Churchillian prose, that. (Trump’s victory remarks are here.)
Rubio fled Nevada without facing the cameras. Cruz did face the cameras but his main theme, to which he clung tenaciously, is that Tuesday night was a sort of a win for him because it wasn’t a win for Rubio. And even though Rubio has finished ahead of him in the last two races in South Carolina and Nevada, and even though Cruz has now finished in third place in the last three contests, the fact that Cruz narrowly beat Trump in Iowa (27-24 percent), under ethically questionable circumstances (with his staff falsely telling Iowans that Dr. Ben Carson had dropped out of the race), that Iowa win confirms that Cruz leads “the only campaign that can beat Donald Trump.”
The Cruzians were spinning this sad, lame argument so hard that CNN’s Cruz reporter, Sunlen Serfaty, actually found herself saying on air that the campaign actually believes that Tuesday night’s third-place result was great for them. She said: “The Cruz campaign really believes this is a win for them because it has left that argument intact. They’re able to argue that Marco Rubio has not scored a win yet.”
Congratulations to the Cruz campaign for convincing at least one person that they “really believe” that.