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Presidential Horse Race 2016: Conservatives hope for Super-Duper Cruz-day

On what has now become known as “Super-Duper Tuesday,” we begin with a little perspective.

Voting only began a mere month and a half ago in the Republican presidential race and already it feels like an eternity since Iowans attended their caucuses in droves to kick off what has become the wildest of all nominating contests.

Ted CruzTed Cruz won in The Hawkeye State on February 1, puncturing Donald Trump’s “I will win everywhere” balloon and leading some to predict Cruz would be way ahead at this point due to the heavy preponderance of evangelical-laden southern states in the front part of the calendar.

It hasn’t worked out that way. The unexplainable phenomena that is Trump has stuck around, with the bombastic reality TV star notching victories throughout the south and amassing an impressive delegate lead heading into today’s voting in Florida, Ohio, Illinois, North Carolina and Missouri.

Of course now we’re down to four candidates still in the race, but only two have any real shot to actually secure the 1237 delegates required to be nominated.

In all likelihood, today is Marco Rubio’s last as an active presidential candidate this cycle. His poll numbers are falling like a stone and his demeanor in the past few days on the trail betrays a candidate who’s resigned to his fate and is about to give up.

Nolan D. McCaskill of Politico reports on the poll numbers, “Donald Trump has expanded his lead over Marco Rubio in the Florida senator’s home state, a Monmouth University poll out Monday shows.

“Trump’s support has surged to 44 percent among likely Republican voters, a 6-point leap from last week. Meanwhile, Rubio’s support has slightly fallen to 27 percent. Ted Cruz and John Kasich round out the poll at 17 percent and 9 percent, respectively.”

In more bad news for Rubio, one-third of the Florida poll respondents said they’d already early-voted in the contest, with an additional one-third also firmly decided on a candidate. In other words, there’s very little room for any kind of last-minute surge.

Not that it looks like any such pro-Rubio wave is forthcoming. McCaskill added that “in a hypothetical head-to-head between Trump and Rubio, 54 percent would back Trump.”

In other words, the Florida senator wouldn’t seem to have any realistic chance to win even in his home state. Rubio has acknowledged a number of times that The Sunshine State was his “firewall,” and the fact he’s not doing well there is definitely weighing on his campaign behavior.

Caitlin Huey-Burns of Real Clear Politics reports, “Rubio crisscrossed his home state over the weekend in a final effort to deny Trump victory in Florida--which will award Tuesday's winner all of its 99 delegates--with the fervor and animation of his earlier days. But he was also publically grieving, and almost tormented by what has come to pass.

“’I’m sad. I’m sad for this country,’ Rubio said at a press conference that went viral for its humanity. ‘This is what a culture and society looks like when everyone says whatever the heck they want. It’s called chaos. It’s called anarchy. And that’s what we are heading towards.’”

It’s safe to say many feel Marco’s pain when it comes to seeing Trump doing so well. But you also can’t help but think a lot of the “sadness” Rubio’s bearing these days has a lot more to do with losing the race than worrying about the future of the country under Trump.

The truth is, Rubio and his spokespeople have been in denial for a long time, no doubt swallowing all of the inflated projections regarding their prospects in the race. As the de facto establishment candidate, Marco was supposed to have been the one who would consolidate the “mainstream” vote, beat the divided “outsiders” and be the last man standing.

But since the beginning, the “outsider” share of the vote was more than adequate to sustain two candidates, with Trump and Cruz both winning enough to put distance between themselves and the others. Rubio has shared some of the mainstream vote with John Kasich, though there’s a good argument that there was never enough to get either of them far in the first place.

Rubio’s sour mood matches that of the establishment in Washington. Think of all the endorsements and millions of dollars dumped into Rubio’s coffers to try and stop The Donald.

And it’s all been in vain. If today is indeed Rubio’s last, there will be a lot of lamenting in the days and weeks to come.

Trump’s dominance in Florida isn’t being repeated elsewhere

While the trend for Trump is seemingly positive in Florida, the day’s other big prize, Ohio, shows the frontrunner sinking noticeably.

Timothy P. Carney of the Washington Examiner writes, “It's not impossible that Donald Trump finishes in third place in Ohio. The latest Ohio polls show a barn-burner between John Kasich and Trump, but they also show a distinctive Ted Cruz surge in the past 10 days…

“Kasich shows very little movement. In five of the six surveys this month, he's been between 32 percent and 35 percent. The only significant movement suggested by these polls is a migration of voters from Trump to Cruz over the course of this month.”

Carney presents a couple different statistical scenarios for why Trump is going down and Cruz is rising. Anecdotally speaking, I believe the difference is the freefall Marco Rubio is experiencing across the country.

The Florida senator is in single digits in the Real Clear Politics Ohio average and will finish a distant fourth there. It seems that the same coalescing around Cruz that’s been going on all over America recently is also happening in Ohio, with the big caveat being Kasich’s popularity in his home state.

Cruz won’t win there, but with some extra support transferring from Rubio to Cruz it makes him more competitive.

Needless to say, a second place finish in Ohio would be huge for Cruz, even if it wouldn’t win him any delegates.

There’s also reason for some Cruz optimism in Illinois.

Newsmax reports, “In Illinois, a new CBS Battleground Tracker poll has real estate mogul Donald Trump and Cruz now locked in a statistical dead heat, 38 to 34, for first place.

“In the NBC/WSJ poll for Illinois, Trump leads with 34 percent, with Cruz close at 25 percent. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Marco Rubio come in at 21 and 16 percent, respectively.”

As always, it’s very hard to tell which poll will end up being the most accurate. The only thing we can tell for sure is that Ted Cruz appears to be moving up just about everywhere. And that’s very good news, indeed, especially since it looks like the race will narrow within hours.

(Note: Here are the Real Clear Politics averages for all March 15 primaries.)

Ted Cruz preparing for one-on-one fight all the way through California

With things looking bright for Cruz today and in the future, his team is in the process of developing a strategy to carry him throughout the rest of the primaries.

Having staked Trump to a large lead, there’s no getting around the fact Cruz needs to have Marco Rubio and John Kasich get out of the way, clearing a path for a one-on-one race.

Their supporters need to join Cruz’s effort, too.

Shane Goldmacher of Politico reports, “[T]hat consolidation has to happen fast. Cruz’s top strategists say they believe Cruz must win decisively in Arizona and Utah, the next states to vote on March 22…

“The belief in Cruz world is that the full weight of the Republican apparatus — both movement conservatives and elites disgusted with Trump — will unite during that lull to propel him in Wisconsin and the half-dozen other states that will vote in in late April.”

Goldmacher explains that Arizona holds a closed Republican primary and Utah conducts caucuses. Both would certainly look good for Cruz if Rubio and Kasich are out. (It should be noted Cruz has done very well in the Rocky Mountain west even with Rubio and Kasich in the race, so if by chance they’re still in, it doesn’t rule out Cruz wins in those states by any means.)

Ditto for Wisconsin, the only other state to vote between March 22nd and late April.

A lot could happen in the interim. I’m guessing the pressure to unite around Cruz will be intense after tomorrow, bringing pretty much every state into play. The Cruz campaign concedes Trump will likely win in New Jersey; New York would be in Trump’s corner as well, though it awards delegates proportionally according to congressional district.

It could very well be that Cruz will be looking for delegates from heavy Democrat areas of New York City. They all count the same, after all.

As far as consolidating the non-Trump vote, GOP establishment consultant Ed Rogers writes (in the Washington Post) that Republicans could unite around Cruz and feel good about it. “I have no problem picturing Cruz as president. I have no problem thinking he could conduct himself well with foreign leaders, and even though his friction with other members of Congress has been well-documented, at least he knows how the place works.

“And, if commentators are so quick to believe that Trump would change his behavior if he became the Republican nominee, then they also have to assume Cruz would begin to act in a manner that would help him be effective as president and win approval for his policy agenda.”

Rogers’ thinking is likely indicative of a lot of establishmentarians these days. Given a choice between Cruz and Trump, the Texas senator looks like a much better bet. Cruz himself often says you know what you’re getting when you vote for him.

The same can’t be said of The Donald. He keeps his own counsel and there’s no evidence he listens to anyone other than his family. Ivanka Trump may be a fine woman, but I’d rather see a little larger inner-circle for considering policy matters.

Here’s thinking Cruz gets his one-on-one chance against Trump – and if his planners are correct, it could go very well.

Another Republican debate is set for March 21

Finally today, for fans of the always exciting Republican presidential debates, it turns out last Thursday’s event will not be the final one this year.

Gabby Morrongiello of the Washington Examiner reports, “Fox News Channel and the Republican National Committee will host the final GOP primary debate on March 21, despite front-runner Donald Trump's recent assertion that the remaining candidates have ‘had enough.’…

“In an email to reporters Monday, the RNC announced that it will host the debate as planned and do so in conjunction with Fox News. The network has hosted three previous debates in Iowa, Detroit and Ohio.”

If this debate turns out to be a one-on-one showdown featuring Trump versus Cruz, it will certainly help bring to light the cavernous gap between the two in actual policy differences.

I can think of no better way for Ted Cruz to prove he’s the better candidate, which fits nicely into his strategy outlined above. Arizona and Utah vote the day after the debate, then Wisconsin.

If Cruz wins those states, people will stop talking about Trump’s inevitability and finally focus on the differences between the candidates.

It’s a win-win situation for all involved. If Trump is as great as he says he is, let him prove it one-on-one against Ted. After all, if he does end up the nominee, that’s how he’ll be competing come fall against Hillary Clinton.

Good practice, right Donald?

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