First off, I feel like I owe you a strong counterpoint after yesterday's piece charting Trump's relatively clear path to the Republican nomination. It's not a guaranteed or obstacle-free path, mind you, but it's starting to look at feel more likely than not. Not so fast, argues sharp political prognosticator Stu Rothenberg in a column entitled, "Trump is more vulnerable than you think." Read Rothenberg toss a dash of ice water on the coronation crowd:
It’s possible to win a primary with one-third of the vote, but it’s difficult to win a two-way or three-way race getting one in three voters. And that is a problem for Trump. His ceiling may prevent him from being the second choice of many Republicans. The folks at CNN kept repeating on primary night that if another candidate had performed like Trump has so far, everyone would be saying that he is unstoppable. That’s true, of course. But the point is that Donald Trump definitely is not like any other candidate. His language is not like a politician’s, and many of his positions are not classic Republican. That certainly enhances his appeal to some, but it disgusts and repels others, limiting his ability to attract significant additional support. Most candidates who win multiple early contests have demonstrated broad appeal. In contrast, Trump remains a deeply polarizing candidate whose message obviously touches a certain kind of voter – one who is angry, wants a political revolution and is looking for a political strongman to mount a campaign against perceived enemies. That describes many, but not necessarily most, Republican voters. The South Carolina exit poll found Trump doing very well among those voters who want a candidate who “tells it like it is” and well among those who want a candidate who “can bring needed change.” But he does very poorly among those respondents who want a candidate who “shares my values” and runs a weak second to Rubio among those who want a candidate who “can win in November.”
Those who believe that Trump is unstoppable frequently note that no Republican who has won both New Hampshire and South Carolina has been denied the GOP’s nomination. That’s true, but I believe that we have already established that the old “rules” do not apply, so I am not sure why anyone should regard two primary victories this year as an iron law of Republican politics. None of this means that Trump can’t now win the nomination. But to do so, he will need to broaden his appeal – something that he has shown no inclination or ability to do, at least to this point. But South Carolina’s results didn’t change Trump’s prospects in the Republican race very much. The outcome was more of the same, not an indication of his growing support in the party. Until that happens – and it could happen or never happen – the GOP nomination is very much up for grabs.
All of that makes sense...if the race effectively distills down to a one-on-one contest in the near future. As I mentioned yesterday, polls show that both Cruz and Rubio would beat Trump soundly in head-to-head match-ups. But every single day that the two Senate freshmen stay in the race pummeling each other, the likelihood of a Trump nomination increases. It's unclear where the Trump rubicon is, but it absolutely exists. For what it's worth, Byron York's sources think the window closes in about three weeks. The problem for the 'Stop Trump' crowd is that Rubio supporters are convinced that theirs is the only not-Donald candidate who has a viable path to victory. Team Marco pushed out a detailed memo fortifying that case after Rubio's second-place finish in South Carolina. But Cruz backers believe the exact same thing about their guy. Like clockwork, the Cruz camp blasted out a memo of their own just yesterday, explicitly stating that only Cruz -- and not Rubio (this was in red font) -- can defeat Trump. Rubio fans eagerly point to polls showing the Florida Senator gaining or leading in places like Arkansas, Georgia, Virginia Minnesota, and Utah. See? Cruz needs to go. Cruz loyalists note that at the very least, the Texan is leading Trump in his own delegate-rich home state, unlike Rubio. See? Rubio must get out. Rubio's team rolls out one high-profile endorsement after another. The Trump alternative is clear, Cruz ought to get out of the way now. The Cruz crew frames those endorsements as the establishment circling the wagons, which only proves that a disrupter like Cruz is the best man to co-opt Trump supporters' anger and shake up DC. Step aside, Marco. And 'round and 'round it goes, much to Trump's delight. Meanwhile:
New polls today:— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) February 23, 2016
Georgia (Trump +9)
Mass (Trump +34)
Vermont (Trump +15)
N Carolina (Trump +18)
Michigan (Trump +18)
Illinois (Trump +13)
That tweet comes from a professional leftist, incidentally, a group of people who must be positively giddy that the "Republican" who supports government healthcare, shouts MoveOn.org slogans about the Bush administration, and polls worst against both Democrats may coast to the nomination. With support sitting in the 25 to 40 percent range, Trump is dominating in places as disparate as the deep South, the Midwest and the Northeast. If numbers like those aren't a wake-up call for the non-Trump majority of the party, I'm not sure what will do the trick. There was a fleeting moment yesterday when it seemed as though the Trump-enabling cycle might finally end. Rumors swirled that Rubio and Cruz had met privately, fueling speculation that they may have been smoothing things over after an ugly anti-Rubio smear claimed the scalp of Cruz's top spokesman. Maybe they were discussing a nonaggression pact ahead of Thursday's debate and next week's Super Tuesday primaries. Perhaps some sort of deal was in the works -- either for the two of them to team up to beat Trump, or for one to endorse the other with...(ahem) future considerations placed on the table. Nope. First, Cruz denied the meeting took place, which seemed logistically dubious to begin with. Then the Rubio campaign fired off a deeply ungracious response to Cruz sacking his communications director, even though that's more or less what Rubio himself had demanded. And then Team Cruz published their "Rubio cannot win" memorandum, followed by Cruz surrogate Glenn Beck predicting violent revolution in ten years if Rubio (or Hillary) wins. Let's be perfectly clear: If this nasty feud is not resolved fairly quickly, Trump will win. And there are few signs of this nasty feud being resolved fairly quickly. I'll leave you with an open question, based on two anecdotes: Is one side in this seemingly-intractable fight showing signs of cracking?
Rubio is now ahead of Cruz in Georgia. Reflective of all the calls I’ve gotten today from Cruz supporters thinking they have to go Marco.— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) February 22, 2016
Republican who WORKS for Cruz: "I don't think Cruz can win nomination at this point. I think his campaign is done." https://t.co/8lypcqcVCN— Teddy Schleifer (@teddyschleifer) February 23, 2016