The last Super Tuesday in March turned out to be the death knell for Marco Rubio‘s bid for the presidency and another triumphant night for Donald Trump.
Trump won at least three contests while denying his biggest threat, Ted Cruz, a single outright victory.
With Rubio out of the race and Kasich having little chance of winning any future contest after netting his first win Tuesday, Cruz stands as the only logical choice for those Republicans and conservatives who dread a Trump nomination.
There’s still a mathematical possibility for Cruz to overtake Trump in the delegate count. He’s also likely going to be the only other candidate besides the New York billionaire who would be eligible to win a contested convention due to the GOP’s byzantine rules on the matter.
That leaves the Republican establishment with the once-unthinkable task of picking between Trump and Cruz — with the Texas senator as the reluctant choice of many GOP insiders.
Yes, the man who managed to piss off nearly every one of his colleagues in the Senate, took every chance offered to rebel against party leadership and inspired murderous fantasies on the part of Lindsey Graham is now seen as the last hope for preventing the GOP’s Trumpmageddon.
It’s a humiliating blow to the party’s leadership to have to settle for the previously-despised Cruz, but it appears that the majority of movers-and-shakers would rather hold their noses and vote for the Senate bombthrower than the brash real estate mogul. At the same time, the conservative movement seems perfectly happy with anyone not named Donald J. Trump winning the nomination, so there’s little hesitation in their support for Cruz.
But what exactly is the the reasoning for picking Cruz over Trump? For conservatives, it’s the fact that he’s one of them and will not destroy their movement. For Republican leaders, like Mitt Romney, Trump at the top of the ticket is a total nightmare and they’ll take the annoyance of a Cruz candidacy over that presumptive terror.
Curiously, what’s rarely ever mentioned is Cruz’s ability to win a general election — a marked contrast to Marco Rubio’s primary pitch. That may be due to everyone, deep down, knowing Cruz has little shot at winning the presidency outside of a Hillary Clinton indictment.
While Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric prompts worries about appealing to the general public, Cruz doesn’t fare much better. The senator’s favorability rating is lower than Clinton’s and more people have a positive view of the former first lady than they do of Cruz.
His entire primary strategy has been to electrify and motivate white evangelicals and die-hard conservatives to cast their ballots for him. Cruz’s portrayal as the ultimate conservative has worked well in the primary, but it is not going to give him victory in a general election.
What is totally unclear is what groups Cruz will bring to the GOP ticket that are not already apart of his base of support. Most Republicans who didn’t vote for him now will probably end up supporting him if he’s the nominee, yet it’s unlikely a necessary number of Democrats and independents will.
Barring a radical transformation for a general election, Cruz’s positions on social security, taxes and other issues will not go well with demographics outside the GOP base. The incredibly bizarre statements of his surrogates — such as his father’s preaching that Ted is “anointed” by God to turn America into a theocratic state and a prominent Cruz-supporting pastor calling for the execution of homosexuals — are going to serve as easy fodder for the Clinton machine to alienate his potential voters.
Additionally, there doesn’t appear to be any sign that Cruz will pick up Trump’s newly engaged supporters if he wins the nomination — a scenario that may be music to the ears of the #NeverTrump crowd, but not so good if you’re trying to win an election.
Republicans can’t even pretend Cruz will win over minorities and millennials with his doubling-down on conservative orthodoxy and speaking style that eerily resembles that of a televangelist.
At the convention that grants him the nomination, Cruz will have the unenviable task of bringing together a tattered political organization for a tough battle with a Democratic Party firmly behind Hillary. With some of his supporters more concerned with purging the party of “Trumpkins” than winning an election, it would be a very tall order for Cruz to unify all the warring factions for his campaign.Of course, many of these same problems also plague Trump. But The Donald has so far managed to topple the standard thinking on electoral politics and, while seemingly a far shot, it’s possible he could shock the experts again in the general election.
At the same time, Trump’s nomination would forever change the Republican Party and deal a devastating blow to the conservative movement.
Cruz at least offers the hope of keeping the old party — even in defeat — together for at least another election cycle. That’s a more comforting idea to the anti-Trump crowd than the horror of a Trump presidency.