First, a few thoughts on last night's results, followed by a look at Cruz's remarks. Super Tuesday 3.0's big winner was Hillary Clinton. She dominated the delegate count, swept the night, and used her (grating, shouty) victory speech to focus her attention on Republican frontrunner Donald Trump -- the one Republican who's most likely to help solve some of her problems on the Left and among the so-called Obama coalition. She also witnessed the exit of Marco Rubio, who boasted some of the strongest general election fundamentals and head-to-head numbers of anyone in the race. His potential threat has been neutralized, much to the delight of liberals. John Kasich closed strong and carried his home state of Ohio comfortably, denying Trump 66 delegates -- but he literally has no path to the nomination, outside of a contested convention from which he'd be exceedingly unlikely to emerge as the GOP standard bearer. There's an argument that his continued presence in the race might help siphon off Trump votes in certain areas and states moving forward, but it's more likely that he's maxed out his 'Stop Trump' utility at this point. Nevertheless, he vowed to fight on to Cleveland, and is making moves to that effect.
Which brings us to Ted Cruz. The Texas Senator came in third in last night's delegate race, but is the only Republican standing with a serious chance of stopping Trump. He welcomed Rubio supporters into the fold, offering kind words for his colleague from Florida. He's hoping to unite the anti-Trump movement and fight tooth and nail for delegates throughout the spring, culminating in a contested convention in July. More on that in a moment. Given Trump's very Super Tuesday, in which he appears to have won five of six nominating contests (Missouri is extremely tight and may go to a recount) and bagged the most delegates by far, Cruz's pre-Cleveland path to victory has all but evaporated. In fact, Trump's delegate haul in Illinois and Missouri overcame his Ohio loss. He is a stronger frontrunner today than he was yesterday. But he's still not invincible. Why? Despite bragging about polling at 50 percent nationally in his victory speech, his polling average is nowhere near that mark at the moment. And then there's the polarization factor, which has given rise to entrenched opposition within a deeply dissatisfied center-right electorate:
EXIT POLL: In a hypothetical Trump v. Clinton match up, 41% of GOP voters in Ohio would consider a third party. pic.twitter.com/pokYIKm0g8— Meet the Press (@meetthepress) March 15, 2016
Even if these contingents are sliced in half as the cycle progresses, those data points are still really problematic numbers for a candidate with so many serious structural vulnerabilities. Ted Cruz will now prosecute a two-pronged case against Trump: That he's unelectable in the fall, and that he's unworthy of both the conservative and populist mantles to which he's laying claim. Now, having dismissed and critiqued the concept of a contested convention for weeks, Cruz's campaign and allies should take note of the argument their candidate advanced with Hugh Hewitt last evening prior to returns coming in. There's a difference between an establishment-"brokered" convention and a contested convention, he said, contending that a scenario under which the delegate frontrunner doesn't end up claiming the final crown wouldn't necessarily be illegitimate:
For what it's worth, he also said he has "zero interest" in running as Trump's running mate, stating that the billionaire will lose to Hillary Clinton. John Kasich has also said there's "no way" he'll end up on Trump's ticket. As you contemplate the possibility of fireworks in Cleveland, keep in mind what the rules are, what the behind-the-scenes maneuvering might entail, and how a multi-ballot convention would work. As anti-Trump forces simultaneously gird for a convention battle and huddle over a potential independent bid, Ramesh Ponnuru devises a plan under which a contested convention would be as open and fair as possible. Interesting:
Republicans could change the rules of their convention to permit some kind of preferential ballot. The rule change would have to be proposed in advance, so that members of the convention’s rules committee have time to consider it before voting on it during the week before all the delegates arrive in Cleveland. Then, if it passes the committee, a majority of delegates would have to vote for it too. When it came time for the delegates to vote on the presidential nomination, delegates would rank their candidates — with pledged delegates putting the candidates to whom they are pledged at the top of their lists. It would probably also be necessary—to reduce the likelihood of accusations of dirty tricks — for each delegate to make his or her rank orderings public immediately after the vote.
It’s a process that would generate a majority for a candidate automatically: There would no need for multiple ballots, and thus no politicking between rounds of voting. The process would also be formally neutral. My guess is that most of the delegates who are not pledged to either Trump or Cruz will prefer the senator to the billionaire, and so the process will work to Cruz’s advantage. But it is certainly possible that Trump would win the instant runoff — and even possible, if less likely, that a third candidate could. Whoever lost the nomination contest would have no legitimate complaint with this process, which would be entirely above-board. Supporters of the losing candidate would, of course, still be able to withhold their votes from the nominee in the fall, by voting for a third-party candidate, or voting for the Democratic nominee, or just staying home. But they would have no grounds for arguing that the nomination had been stolen.
I'll leave you with two divergent takes on the road ahead, based on last night's outcomes:
Bottom line: Hard to see how Trump DOESN'T get to 1,237 from here. Beating Cruz in red states, likely to beat Kasich in blue states.— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 16, 2016
.@jaketapper: "We're probably going to be covering a contested Republican convention"— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) March 16, 2016