Here’s my contrarian thought for the day: our only shot at beating Donald Trump is for Trump to win both Ohio and Florida today.
I know. I know. Everyone has been filling your head with Mitt Romney’s anti-Cruz fantasy: we can direct voters to vote in this state or that state strategically. Because the GOP establishment and/or its losing last choice for the nomination has that much power and authority over voters. Because our hope is to keep a divided race going with particular candidates picking off one state or another, starting with their home state.
Tonight’s vote is going to explode that fantasy. If it can be exploded. Marco Rubio’s and John Kasich’s persistence in this race despite a record of almost unbroken electoral failure has been just remarkable in its faith-based unfalsifiable theories about how they can win. Each vows to continue even if they lose. We will see. Kasich may pull out a victory in Ohio. I hope not, because then he will try to pretend that winning his home state is some kind of tremendous victory, stay in and continue to divide the anti-Trump vote.
The untold story of this election is why the Republican Party has refused to coalesce around the one outsider candidate who has shown he can beat Trump and who does not issue racist-sounding statements on a regular basis, use curse words, or discuss his private parts on national TV, and who has never ever given money to Hillary Clinton.
A new book, “The Four Faces of the Republican Party: The Fight for the 2016 Presidential Nomination,” provides a helpful schematic. The GOP coalition consists of four parts: very conservative Evangelicals, very conservative seculars, somewhat conservative voters and moderate and liberal voters. Of the very conservative seculars, Olsen and Scala write, “They invariably see their preferred candidate knocked out early, and they then invariably back whoever is supported by the somewhat-conservative bloc.” (H/T Matt Continetti in National Review, “A Very Big Tent.”)
Trump has swooped in and taken a portion of every part of the electorate, but Ted Cruz has become the preferred candidate of the very conservative voters, both evangelical and secular. With Rubio and Kasich out of the race, voters in the somewhat conservative camp have indicated they are willing to vote for Cruz to defeat Trump. But the “Washington cartel” is holding out for a brokered convention and keeps propping up poor Rubio long after the voters have declared his sell-by date in this campaign is done. (Kasich’s hope is they will switch to propping up him.)
A Trump victory in Ohio and Florida would remove these candidates’ last fig leaf of electability and presumably force them to face the fact: it’s Trump or Cruz.
If Rubio and Kasich had dropped out after, oh say, losing 14 straight states, as would have happened in any normal year, Cruz would now be ahead and have an easy path to victory. Dividing the anti-Trump vote and permitting Trump to win many more states makes the task ahead immeasurably harder. But not impossible.
Let’s take one example of the conventional wisdom, by National Review’s chief political reporter Tim Alberta who claims the math shows Trump can’t be beaten if he wins Florida and Ohio.
He goes through each state and adds up delegates based on no polling, and it seems to me a really odd understanding of what the electorate has demonstrated, such as that Oregon and Wisconsin voters, for example, are going to prefer the guy who curses and swaggers and makes mean statements in public because his views on health care are somewhat more liberal than Ted Cruz. He begins with the idea that Cruz is too conservative to win but that Trump’s appalling and ugly campaign style will be less important than policy details.
He also assumes Trump wins the vast majority of California’s delegates in a closed primary: “But Trump could be expected to win more than half, and probably closer to two-thirds, which on top of a statewide victory would bring him more than 100 total, easily pushing him past 1,200 overall.”
Why? The Republican party in states dominated by Democrats tend to be rather more conservative than the state generally. The last poll taken in January has Cruz ahead, barely over Trump. The delegate formula, which is based on congressional districts favors a competent campaign, which Cruz has shown he has.
The truth is we do not know what the voters will do if they are offered the choice between Trump and a not-Trump named Cruz.
We do know that Trump has had a hard time getting the rest of the party to coalesce around him, as the clear front runner. The Mississippi exit polls showed Trump would win in a one-on-one with Cruz in that state (while Cruz would beat Trump narrowly in Michigan). But the Mississippi exit polls also showed just 1 percent of the non-Trump voters in that state would swing to Trump if the other candidates got out of the race.
To beat Trump, we need to give the voters a clear choice: Trump or not-Trump.
That’s why I hope Tuesday’s results make is crystal clear than even in Washington D.C. they recognize the choices we have.
Cruz or Trump. I didn’t decide that is the choice; the GOP voters have.
UPDATE: True, the latest YouGov poll has Trump winning majority support among GOP voters for the first time. If the majority of GOP voters support Trump, he’s going to be the nominee.
Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project and can be followed on Twitter @MaggieGallaghe.