David French at NRO looks at polling data for upcoming GOP presidential races. He finds the numbers “great for Trump [and] terrible for everyone else.”
There’s a paradox at work here, however. If the numbers are terrible for two of the three candidates in the credible non-Trump field (Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich) and merely bad for the third candidate, then that’s not so good for Trump.
Here’s why. For Trump to lose the nomination, there probably needs to be a two-man field by March 15 (hopefully) and March 22 (at the latest). In a three-man field, Trump likely wins most primaries by getting to 40 percent, an attainable share. If Trump is at 40 percent, one of the other two candidates needs to outpoll the other by 2-1 to reach 40. Possible, yes. Likely no.
But if, in the upcoming contests, two of the three non-Trump contenders do terribly and one doesn’t, then the field could diminish to Trump and “one other” (Cruz, Rubio, or Kasich). At that point, Trump would need 50 percent plus one in the winner-take-all states. This threshold would probably be difficult for him to meet in many states.
How might the field get to Trump and one other by March 15 or March 22? It could happen if the “SEC primaries” eliminate one candidate and the other contests eliminate a second. Key among the non-SEC contests are what I will call the Big Ten — Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, and Ohio.
The SEC primaries won’t eliminate Kasich because he doesn’t expect to do well in them. He’s banking on other contests, primarily the Big Ten ones.
Could the SEC primaries eliminate Cruz or Rubio? Cruz, in particular has pinned his hopes on success in the South. If he were to lose Texas, that would be very discouraging. So too if were to finish third in a number of Southern states, as he did in South Carolina.
A week or two ago, these scenarios seemed unlikely. But the Cruz campaign is struggling some now. The candidate has an image problem and knows it. The firing of the communications director may not be enough to overcome the problem; nor can it be cured with a good debate performance, the way Rubio overcame his “robo” image.
The Rubio campaign is full of confidence after finishing better than expected in South Carolina and seeing Jeb Bush bow out. But that confidence will dissipate if Cruz significantly outperforms Rubio in the South, and will vanish if Rubio falters against Trump in Florida (March 15).
Cruz and Rubio are my preferred candidates, but in the coming weeks I will be rooting for one of them to do poorly, while the other one does okay.
For Kasich, as noted above, the big contests are Michigan (March 8) and Ohio (March 15). The polls suggest that he’s behind Trump in Ohio and well behind him in Michigan. Defeats in these two states, especially Ohio, would likely send Kasich packing.
A better scenario (from my anti-Trump perspective) is one in which he’s clobbered in Massachusetts and Minnesota (March 1) and in Michigan, and sees polling data showing him well behind in Ohio. Under these circumstances, he could be out by March 15.
To summarize, the SEC primaries might knock out Rubio or Cruz and the mini-Big Ten contests might eliminate Kasich. If both of these things happen, the chances of avoiding Trump as the GOP standard bearer are good. They are also good if the SEC primaries eliminate both Rubio and Cruz, but seems very unlikely.
There is also the possibility that Kasich might withdraw if Rubio or Cruz offered him the vice presidency. However, Trump can also offer it, and Kasich might conclude that, given Trump’s ascendancy, that offer is preferable.
The odds, therefore, favor a Trump nomination. But the odds don’t strike me as prohibitive. There’s at least one plausible scenario for stopping him.