The leading GOP contenders agree on one thing: It's time for their other rivals to drop out.
Ed. Note: The people have spoken, and the Republican primary appears to be rapidly narrowing to a choice between two surviving candidates–both opposed by the party’s establishment and both asking remaining candidates to drop out.
Cruz has opened 10 offices in FL in an effort to squeeze Rubio out of the race, while Trump is counting on cross-over votes that he is pulling into the Republican Party–such as in NJ, NY, PA, and CA–to take him over the top.
We may witness a Trump-Cruz fight to the finish to take down Hillary Clinton in the general election.
Republished from Politico.com, by Kyle Cheney and Alex Isenstadt, March 6, 2016. Image credit: Getty
The Texas senator is angling to squeeze Rubio out of the Republican presidential primary, and two dominant victories in Maine and Kansas – as well as narrow misses to Donald Trump in Kentucky and Louisiana – added juice to his argument that he’s the only candidate capable of competing with Trump for the nomination.
“If you want to beat Donald Trump, we have to stand united as one,” Cruz said as he savored his two caucus wins and welcomed his rivals’ supporters — many of whom had already defected to him on Saturday night.
Now, Cruz is pouring resources into Rubio’s home state of Florida, where polls show Trump leading – and where a Rubio loss would effectively end his campaign.
Cruz’s maneuvering is even more striking because he’s is unlikely to compete for a win in Florida, which awards all of its delegates to the top finisher. Instead, his decision to open 10 offices there on Friday seems aimed at suffocating Rubio’s support and knocking him out of the race.
Trump, viewing Florida as one of the few states standing between him and the nomination, is piling on too.
“I would like Marco to drop out,” Trump said at a press conference after Saturday’s wins. Earlier in the day, at a rally in Orlando, he suggested that if he wins Florida, the fight for the nomination is over.
Cruz’s wins this week position him as the leading anti-Trump figure in the Republican primary, while Rubio has faded – and he’s creeping up on Trump in ways that could become disconcerting for the front-runner.
“By my count, Cruz has snuck by Trump in four contests … that Trump could have/should have won, but Cruz’s superior strategy, organization and structure is stealing states from under the Trump team’s nose and they don’t even see it coming,” said Tony Fabrizio, a national Republican pollster. “If Team Trump doesn’t rethink and readjust their strategy, organization and structure, Cruz will steal the nomination too.”
Cruz has proved dominant in most of the states holding “closed” caucuses – contests in which only registered Republicans can compete. That dynamic could be an essential formula to deny Trump the delegates he needs to secure the GOP nomination in July.Though most of the early primary contests have been “open” — allowing crossover voting from independents, and in some cases, Democrats — the remainder of the calendar is tilted toward closed elections.
“The closed primary/caucus shows that Trump may not be as strong among conservatives as some people like to tout, which may be a real problem for him going forward,” said Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee. “And Cruz can now solidify his argument that he’s the conservative to not only beat Trump but to take down Hillary.”
On Saturday, Cruz won caucuses in Kansas and Maine, demonstrating his organizing strength – while Rubio languished in a distant third in Kansas and last in Maine, behind Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Rubio finished a distant third in Louisiana and could get shut out of the delegate race there.
If Rubio and Kasich exit the race, the Cruz team believes it will have the opportunity to defeat Trump in a one-on-one contest. The New York businessman, they note, has not been able to notch a majority of the vote in any of the nominating contests so far (though he came close in Massachusetts). Trump, speaking after the polls closed Saturday, called for Rubio to drop out of the race and said he’d welcome the head-to-head with Cruz.
“I would love to take on Ted one-on-one,” he said. “He can’t win New York. He can’t win New Jersey. He can’t win Pennsylvania. He can’t win California.”
The prospect of a Trump-Cruz fight to the finish is a nightmare for Republican elites, who despise both primary leaders and worry about either man’s ability to beat Hillary Clinton in a likely general election matchup.
While many GOP higher-ups have cringed at Trump’s harsh rhetoric, some speculate that he may be a stronger general election candidate than Cruz, whose hard-edged conservative rhetoric may turn off independents and moderate Republicans.
For all his negatives, Trump’s focus on deal-making and compromise — and his appeal to blue collar voters that have powered him to wins in 12 of the first 19 states to vote — may allow him to expand the party’s vote share, a theme he has been pounding in recent speeches.
“Trump gives the party the best chance to defeat Hillary. Who knows how he’ll govern? That’s a given. But looking past his ability to defeat Hillary is a mistake,” said one senior Republican strategist.
Rubio and Kasich now face the urgent task of notching wins – anywhere. Rubio anticipates a victory Sundayin Puerto Rico. But his biggest test comes in his home state of Florida on March 15. Polls have consistently showed the senator trailing Trump, often by double digits, though one recent poll shows him behind by a narrower margin.
Kasich, too, needs a home-state win on March 15. But he’s also staked his campaign on a strong finish in Michigan, which votes on Tuesday. Polls there show him in fourth place.
The pressure on both Rubio and Kasich is only likely to mount in the 10 days between now and the critical March 15 primaries, when 358 delegates are at stake across five states.
“I think Kasich and Marco still have until the 15th to prove they can continue,” said Mike DuHaime, Chris Christie’s top political adviser.
In Ohio, Kasich has tapped Matt Borges, the man he handpicked as state GOP chairman, to oversee his campaign there, and a pro-Kasich super PAC, New Day for America, is spending $1 million to prop him up in his home state.
Kasich, like Rubio, is now openly conceding he has no path to an outright majority — and is banking on denying Trump the 1,237 delegates he needs to secure the nomination.
In a memo to reporters, Kasich’s senior strategist John Weaver outlined what the campaign considers its path to the convention in July — a scenario in which no candidate wins enough delegates to claim the nomination outright. Weaver suggested that although Cruz showed strength Saturday, the remaining contests present him with few opportunities, and he needed even stronger finishes across the south to present a credible challenge to Trump.
“Ted Cruz needed to get more delegates out of the southeast and caucus states than he was able to get, and his path is closing,” Weaver wrote. “The Marco Rubio hype machine is winding down and his bubble will completely pop on March 15 in Florida if he doesn’t win.”
Preventing Trump from winning Florida and Ohio, delegate-rich states that award their delegates on a winner-take-all basis, is seen as critical for those intent on stopping him. Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee, even encouraged voters in those states to support their home-state candidate to deny Trump victories.
The stop-Trump forces are also focusing on Illinois, which also holds its primary on March 15. The Club for Growth, a small government group that has been hammering Trump, has placed a $1 million-plus TV buy in the state.
Cruz scoffs at the idea of a contested convention, dismissing it as a “pipe dream” of the GOP establishment. But shoving Rubio and Kasich out of the race could backfire, as he, too, faces difficult math in trying to secure an outright majority of delegates if Trump picks up Florida’s 99 delegates and Ohio’s 66.
Saturday’s results showed Cruz closing the gap with Trump, however, as he picked up Rubio’s collapsing support – and possibly voters who would otherwise have backed Ben Carson, who exited the race on Friday. Cruz appeared poised to win Saturday’s delegate battle against Trump, inching closer to Trump’s overall lead, though precise distribution was still underway in Louisiana and Kentucky.
“Cruz took another big step forward,” said DuHaime. “He is the only one other than Trump who is showing he can win consistently.”
No matter what happens, though, many senior party figures worry that wounds from divisive primary will be difficult to heal. With a substantial portion of the primary electorate both in support and in opposition to Trump, many envision a civil war that will play out for months to come – perhaps into the summer convention.
“Deny Trump, there is division. Accept Trump and there is division. Not a good scenario,” said Mel Martinez, a former Republican National Committee chairman.
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