It’s Trump v. Cruz. And Little Marco? Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rubio?

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Good day Austin:

OK.

So maybe Marco Rubio did not end up last night lying in the gutter, riddled with bullets uttering his own pathetic epitaph.

But he is now bleeding, staggering toward the Ides of March when Florida votes, propelled only by the fevered hope his home state can nurse his wounds and revive him the way that Cruz’s home state rescued and restored him when he appeared on the ropes coming off third place finishes in South Carolina and Nevada heading into Super Tuesday.

Only Cruz was comfortably ahead in polls going into Texas, while Rubio is uncomfortably behind in polls in Florida nine days out, and reeling toward a say hello to my little friend final shootout that will likely lead to a bad end in Miami.

(note language in Tony Montana’s bitter end. It’s more explicitly vulgar than a Republican debate.)

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As of today, based on yesterday’s results, it appears far more likely that the Republican race is coming down to a mano-a-mano contest between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz that both Trump and Cruz say is what they want, and that, if anything, the third, odd-man-out, who is most likely to survive the winner-take-all Florida and Ohio primaries on March 15, is Ohio Gov. John Kasich and not Rubio.

It was Cruz’s best night since he won the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1, and all the better because it is that much further down the road toward the Republican National Convention in July, and that Cruz finds himself today in a sweeter spot than seemed possible after doing way less well in the South outside Texas on Super Tuesday, way back last week. (It was last week, right?)

From Trump last night (who appeared subdued or, as Mitt Romney put it on Meet the Press this morning, uncharacteristically low energy.):

Marco Rubio had a very, very bad night and personally I’d call for him to drop out of the race. I think it’s time he drop out of the race. I really think so.

I don’t think tonight he can rant and rave, oh he comes in third, he comes in fourth, every time he comes in third of fourth. You’ve got to be able to win and he has not been able to win and I think it’s time that he drops out.

I would love to take on Ted one on one. That would be so much fun. Ted can’t win New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California. I want Ted one-on-one, OK?

This morning on Fox & Friends Sunday repeated that view.

From Cruz last night in Idaho, which is one of four states that vote Tuesday.

If you’re a supporter of Marco Rubio or John Kasich, both good, honorable men, both men I respect, but if you don’t want to see Donald Trump as the nominee, then I invite  you to join our team as so may supporters of Marco Rubio did in the state of Maine. They came together and united because they said, `We cannot let this happen. The stakes are too high. We are fighting for the future of this country, the future or our kids.’

Rubio was in Puerto Rico Saturday ahead of today’s primary.

“The map only gets friendlier after tonight,” Rubio said. “We knew this would be the roughest period of the campaign.”

And this:

FOX News
Rubio Campaign Communication Director Alex Conant
March 5, 2016

ALEX CONANT: Ted Cruz has shown that he can win his home state and neighboring state, Oklahoma, and small rural caucuses, like Iowa and Alaska, and now Kansas. Unfortunately, there are only two states left that have caucuses, Utah and Hawaii. After that it is all primaries. Marco has done well in primaries so far. We beat Ted Cruz in Virginia. We beat Ted Cruz in South Carolina. We beat Ted Cruz in Georgia, a state that Ted Cruz originally thought he might actually win. So we feel really good about the map moving forward. And after we win the Florida primary, the map, the momentum and the money is going to be on our side. And ultimately, we believe Marco is the one candidate who can unite Republicans, who can grow the conservative movement and defeat Hillary Clinton this fall. So we are very optimistic about the race going forward. At this point, nobody is on track to having the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination. But after we win Florida, we are going to be on our way to doing so. 

Bravo . Well done. Here is some previously unseen footage of Conant preferring for that appearance on Fox.

Things could change yet again, but Super Saturday was very, very good for Ted Cruz.

He won big in the caucuses in Maine and Kansas, and finished a strong second in the primaries in Louisiana and Kentucky.

He picked up 64 delegates to 49 for Donald Trump, 13 for Marco Rubio and 8 for John Kasich.

It resulted in front pages like this:

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Two Cruz victories buoy challenge to Trump Drive.

From Jonathan Martin:

Senator Ted Cruz scored decisive wins in the Kansas and Maine caucuses on Saturday, demonstrating his enduring appeal among conservatives as he tried to reel in Donald J. Trump’s significant lead in the Republican presidential race.

Mr. Trump contained Mr. Cruz’s advances by winning in Louisiana and Kentucky. But the Texas senator’s wins were sure to energize the anti-Trump forces who are desperately trying to stop Mr. Trump’s march to the nomination, and they left little doubt that Mr. Cruz, who has now captured six states, is their best hope.

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Mr. Trump’s losses underlined his continued vulnerability in states that hold time-intensive caucuses: He has lost five of seven such contests. He has performed far better in states holding primaries, which require less organization, and some of which also allow Democrats and independents to vote in Republican races.

Such voters, who can be receptive to Mr. Trump’s anti-establishment message, have augmented Mr. Trump’s support. But if Mr. Trump is not able to bolster his organization and start performing better in caucuses and states that allow only Republicans to vote, Mr. Cruz may be able to deny him the 1,237 delegates needed to capture the nomination before the convention.

From the Kansas City Star:

Here is what happened yesterday in Louisiana, Kentucky, Kansas and Maine.

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Super Saturday. Real Clear Politics

And, from NBC:

NBC

What happened yesterday?

From the Kansas City Star:

While Cruz’s caucus victory may have been a mild surprise, the margin stunned analysts. Trump’s overwhelming defeat reflects a growing problem for his campaign: In primaries open to Democrats and independents, he typically prevails. In caucuses, where only registered Republicans can vote and where organization matters more, the flamboyant TV star stumbles.

Cruz will collect 24 convention delegates from Kansas, a state GOP official said. Trump will collect nine, Rubio five and Kasich one.

The results don’t include provisional ballots cast by voters not found on registration lists. If and when those votes are counted, the delegate allocations could shift.

Cruz’s win came partially from a far superior organization in the state, analysts said. His campaign manager is Kansas City political consultant Jeff Roe.

Trump had only one major Kansas endorsement, from Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and virtually no campaign presence in the state. Trump spoke to Kansas voters only on the day of the caucuses, in Wichita. Cruz came to the state twice in the final days before the voting.

“Cruz had more of a ground mobilization campaign in Kansas than Trump did,” said Chapman Rackaway, a political science professor at Fort Hays State University. “Evangelical candidates like Cruz tend to benefit from church mobilization very strongly.”

The Kansas results represented a setback for Rubio, who barnstormed the state in the final hours of the caucus. He had the endorsements of Gov. Sam Brownback and former senator Rick Santorum, who won the 2012 presidential GOP caucus in Kansas.

That didn’t appear to help.

From Aaron Blake in the Washington Post.

Ted Cruz: Cruz won just two of the four states on Saturday, but the two he lost wound up being closer than expected — and will probably be cast as signs of potential Cruz momentum. In perhaps the most significant development of the night, primary-day votes in Louisiana turned a primary that basically all of the major networks called early on into a competitive race. Donald Trump had a YUGE margin among early voters, but as the night wore on, Cruz’s much-stronger primary-day performance made it a competitive race. Could that primary-day performance reflect a shift in the race more broadly? It’s possible. We would note that Louisiana is probably a state Cruz should compete with Trump in and maybe win. But insofar as this is still a momentum race, Saturday suggested Cruz momentum. And given many were declaring Trump the presumptive nominee and Marco Rubio had such a poor night, that’s significant. Cruz still needs to start winning primaries that aren’t his home state of Texas or don’t border it, but Saturday was, all things considered, a good night for his narrative.

From Philip Bump’s analysis in the Washington Post.

This suggests that the shift probably wasn’t a function of Ted Cruz’s (clearly strong) get-out-the-vote effort. Field efforts like that result in relatively limited swings, and it’s hard to see how they could have run a hugely successful turnout effort throughout the state uniformly.

Instead, this looks like the state of Louisiana bailed on Marco Rubio in favor of Ted Cruz. Which could explain why Cruz is targeting Florida all of a sudden. On Saturday night, Donald Trump called for Rubio to drop out of the race. If he can repeat what he did in Louisiana in Florida in just over a week, Cruz will take Rubio out himself.

On Sunday, Mitt Romney, on Fox News Sunday, said he thought his speech last week  calling for a concerted collective effort to keep Trump from seizing the nomination, had its effect

Well it was a big night for Ted Cruz last night and I think that’s overwhelmingly because people are taking a closer look at Donald Trump.

And, Romney on Meet the Press:

I think people in Ohio are likely to get behind John Kasich, their popular governor there, and if i were a resident of Ohio, that’s who I would vote for. And in Florida, i think a lot of people look at Marco Rubio, are very impressed with his track record, what he’s done in that state, they’re probably going to get behind him. I think h’es going to win in that state. We’ll see. It’s close.

You’re going to see one of the three, and right now it looks like Ted Cruz, emerge as the strongest contender, but you know that can change. We’ve seen a lot of surprises in the campaign, but one of those three I’m going to endorse before the convention … and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure one of those three is the nominee.

The Cruz campaign, however, is not interested in a Mitt Romney United Front against Trump, and is going all in in Florida in hopes of spoiling Rubio’s chances there and force him out of the race, either before the vote, or immediately thereafter.

From the Cruz campaign Friday.

HOUSTON, Texas – Following a strong showing on Super Tuesday, the Cruz for President Campaign is communicating a serious commitment to competing hard in the winner-take-all Sunshine State primary on March 15th. As the vaunted Ted Cruz ground operation moves into Florida, the campaign opened 10 offices all across the state this week.

From Rush Limbaugh on Fox News Sunday:

For the longest time the Republican Party has told us they can’t win with just Republican votes and that’s why they support amnesty, that’s’ why they support the Democrats on many of their issues to go out and get Hispanics or other minorities. Well guess who’s doing it? Donald Trump is doing it. Donald Trump has put together a coalition, whether he knows it or not, whether he intended to or not, he has put together a coalition that is exactly what the Republican Party says that it needs to win . And yet look what they’re doing. They’re trying to get Trump out of the race cause they are not in charge of it, they are not in control of it. And it’s the most amazing thing to watch this happen.

Gov. Romney comes along and tries to talk people out of Trump and that’s not going to work . You can’t talk his supporters out of supporting him. The only guy that’s going to be able to do that is Trump himself.

Limbaugh prefers Cruz. He said that Cruz’s overriding emphasis on appealing to conservative evangelicals had “limited his appeal,” but that he proved at Thursday’s debate that “he’s just in a different league” than the other candidates, and that, contrary to what’s often written and said about him, “He’s a nice guy, he’s a likable guy, he’s not cazy, he’s not nasty, and certainly he’s not a liar. He’s a down the middle guy who anybody can trust. He’s got plenty of integrity.”

As significant for Cruz as Limbaugh’s assessment Sunday, was that of Sen. Lindsey Graham, a longtime antagonist, on Meet the Press, who acknowledge that if Trump is to be stopped, it’s probably up to Cruz to stop him  and that it would be best if Rubio and Kasich appreciated that reality and got out of the race before March 15.

At the end of the day,  I know what I’m getting with Ted Cruz.

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Yeah, if I can work with Ted Cruz, it shows that there is hope. It’s not like I prefer Ted Cruz.

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But Ted is a conservative. He’s more ideological than I am, but he is a Republican conservative and Donald Trump is not. I hope Rubio wins Florida, I hope Kasich wins Ohio, but if I had to support Ted Cruz over Donald Trump I would  because I think he is a Republican conservative and I think that he might could beat Hillary Clinton.

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I think Rubio and Kasich have got to decide among themselves, can they be an alternative to Trump over time.  To me, it’s clear that Ted has made the best case so far that he can be the alternative to Trump. The best thing I think could happen is for the party to unite before Ohio and Florida and make sure we not only beat him – Trump – in Ohio and Florida, but beat him thereafter, and right now it seems Ted Cruz has the best case to be made.

Even before the votes were counted last night, Cruz had gotten a boost with the results of the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll.

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Next up. A primary today in Puerto Rico, and then, on Tuesday, primaries in Michigan, Mississippi and Idaho, and caucuses in Hawaii.

Here’s the latest polling in Michigan and Mississippi.

 

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Mississippi. Magellan Strategies = 2/29/15

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 5.40.01 AMBack to where  we began with Cruz’s rise and Rubio’s seeming demise, here are two takes.

The first is from Frank Bruni of  the New York Times, who has written among the most withering criticisms of Cruz:

Just when you think it can’t get any worse for the sober-minded, cool-headed traditionalists in the Republican Party, it does. They see their gold-plated gate crasher taken down a peg, only to find themselves faced with the prospect of kissing up to Ted Cruz.

On Saturday he matched Donald Trump’s two victories, in Louisiana and Kentucky, with two of his own, in Kansas and Maine. He got substantially more delegates from the four contests overall than Trump did.

And it was like the cosmically mischievous twist in an O. Henry story. The prayers, pleading and plotting of G.O.P. elders were answered: A rival candidate indeed gathered some steam, restrained Trump’s momentum and staked an equal claim to at least one news cycle’s headlines. But that candidate was a creature they find every bit as loathsome as the crass billionaire, if not more so.

And then there was Marco Rubio.

What in the world ever happened to Marco Rubio?

To the Rubio who was supposed to be the party’s savior and hope, I mean. The Rubio who made donors’ hearts beat faster. The Rubio they kept foisting on Republican voters, except that the donors didn’t see it as foisting. They saw it as benevolent instruction in which candidate was really best for all involved, which candidate could deny Democrats a third consecutive term in the White House.

Rubio is essentially the Christmas fruitcake of the 2016 cycle: presented as a gift, received as something neither appetizing nor especially nutritive.

And the last word comes from Lexington at The Economist.

SENATOR Marco Rubio of Florida, a young Cuban-American with a stirring, up-by-the-bootstraps life-story, was once called the future of the Republican Party. His poor showing in a series of presidential nominating contests held on March 5th—including a fourth place in the New England state of Maine—leaves his campaign for the White House running on fumes. After Republican presidential primary elections or caucuses in 19 states, Mr Rubio has a win in just one, Minnesota, to his name. His last hopes rest on his home state of Florida, whose large haul of delegates is up for grabs on March 15th, though he is lagging in opinion polls there.

Mr Rubio ticks many boxes on the lists that conservative donors, Republican strategists and pundits draw up when looking for winners. He is Hispanic and has spoken movingly of his sympathy for immigrants, but is conservative enough that he was elected to the Senate as a Tea Party hero. He can be sunny, upbeat and funny on a good day, but is also a disciplined candidate (to the point of extreme caution). He entered the 2016 race with a plan: to be the candidate who appealed to Establishment types and voters focused on electability and an optimistic vision for the future, while staying far enough to the right that he would not anger ideological purists.

Alas for Mr Rubio, his straddling strategy increasingly looks like a stretch too far. He is distrusted by the hard-right, who call him a backer of “amnesty” because he once worked with a cross-party group of senators on immigration reform. At the same time he has fallen short with mainstream, college-educated and white-collar Republicans, who have watched him harden his tone and portray the country as a dystopia on the brink of doom in a bid to catch the front-runner, Donald Trump, and his rival Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Damagingly, as his support ebbed in recent days, Mr Rubio indulged in the sort of schoolyard abuse for which Mr Trump is notorious, mocking the billionaire’s “orange” sun-tan and seeming to question Mr Trump’s manhood. Talk-radio hosts have been bashing Mr Rubio for days, and suggesting that Mr Cruz is the only bet for Republicans anxious that Mr Trump has broken with conservative orthodoxy on such issues as abortion, gay marriage or government-funded healthcare.

Mr Rubio’s wretched March 5th coincides with a good night for Mr Cruz, who won caucus contests in Kansas by 25 percentage points and Maine by 13 points, and came a closer second than expected to Mr Trump, who won in Kentucky and Louisiana. A bumpy night for Mr Trump looks all the more turbulent because exit polls suggest that he did best among voters who cast ballots some days ago, and less well with those who turned out on election day. That will encourage Stop Trump forces within the Republican Party, who hoped that the New York property tycoon would be damaged by recent controversies and policy reversals. These include his muddled and initially equivocal response to praise from a white supremacist veteran of the Ku Klux Klan, and a double flip-flop over torture, when he seemed to say that as president he would order torture in defiance of international law, changed his mind to say he would heed the law and then changed it again to say that laws against torture needed loosening. Less cheeringly, many Trump supporters were probably most dismayed to hear their hero say in a TV debate that his current views on immigration, including a promise to deport 11m people without legal papers, would become more flexible in office.

Alas for Stop Trump leaders whose main concern is picking a candidate with general election appeal, their headaches are not eased by Mr Cruz’s rise. The Texan senator may be more polished than Mr Trump, and more of a conventional conservative. But he lacks Mr Trump’s astonishing ability to excite apolitical voters who want a champion to punish America’s foes and punch the ruling classes in the face. Mr Cruz is essentially a rigid ideologue whose plan for victory involves driving up turnout among exceedingly conservative and evangelical Christians. Mr Trump called on Saturday night for Mr Rubio to drop out to make this a two-man race, saying: “I want Ted, one-on-one.”

 

 

 

 

 

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