YIKES: The GOP establishment is probably too late.
from the New Republic's Brian Beutler, who documents a phenomenon that I've been noting in this space over the last few weeks:
For months and months, movement conservatives and elected Republicans—along with a non-trivial contingent of political commentators and data journalists—promoted as conventional wisdom an idea that was really much more akin to wishful thinking. That idea, boiled down to its essence, was that the very weirdness of the Donald Trump phenomenon—his undisguised bigotry, his total lack of governing experience, the unanimous (if not always vocal) opposition of Republican elites to his candidacy—would sooner or later doom him.
Let me offer a mea culpa and say that once upon a time, when Trump first announced that he was running, I repeatedly said that there was no chance that he would actually win the nomination. But then he kept on dominating polls and showed robust support across a wide array of Republican voters. And he started winning votes. A second place finish in Iowa — likely not the best turf for him and despite a disastrous lack of organization in a caucus state. Then big wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Trump is the heavy favorite to again dominate tonight at the Nevada caucuses and he has a big polling lead both nationally and in nearly every state to come on the calendar. He is in a slightly better position than Mitt Romney and John McCain were at this point, and they went on to easy victories. All of that is to say: The evidence changed! The frontrunner is Trump. I wouldn't say he's a sure thing, but he's quite obviously the favorite.
The dream that Marco Rubio
will overtake him because he now, belatedly, has near-total establishment backing assumes that Rubio will catch up to Trump in the blue states later in the calendar (some of them winner-take-all). This was how establishment faves Romney and McCain ran up the score. The problem is that Rubio, a right-wing idealogue who has staked his career on support from the Tea Party and the Religious Right, is not very popular in blue states. And Trump is. Indeed, the blue states look like a firewall for Donald Trump
It's possible that if Republicans had consolidated around Rubio a few months ago, they might have been able to slow down the Trump train, but as it stands, I just don't see how the math is supposed to work. Take a look at the calendar
. Trump is going to have a big lead after Super Tuesday. For Rubio to have a shot at a comeback, he really needs to win Ohio and Florida on March 15, both winner-take-all states. He's trailing in both, and honestly he has no shot in Ohio unless John Kasich drops out (but if Kasich is hanging on now, why wouldn't he hang on to see if he can win Ohio?). I actually think Rubio's odds in Ohio are so low that he's better off hoping Kasich steals those delegates from Trump. Also on March 15, Illinois awards delegates by congressional district; based on his polling advantage, Trump could easily sweep the delegates like he did in South Carolina.
And then comes April. Even if the field winnows (a big if!), Trump is going to be favored in five winner-take-all states: Wisconsin, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Plus he'll likely nab a blowout win in New York, which awards its delegates proportionally.
Unless something changes dramatically, and very soon, Trump is going to lead the way in delegates this summer (keep in mind that unlike in the Democratic party, superdelegates have to follow the voters of their state; they're not "super" at all). The GOP's only real hope is to keep Trump below 50 percent and end up in a contested convention (which would itself be a catastrophe for the party — think Trump supporters would be copacetic if Rubio takes the crown despite getting less votes and delegates?). But unless my math is wrong, I'd say that the odds are that Trump will get over the hump and gather the majority of delegates. That's because of precisely the blue-state-firewall of winner-take-all states that have helped previous establishment candidates run up the score. The same thing that helped Romney easily take a majority of delegates despite sustained opposition is going to help Trump.
John Brummett, like a lot of pundits, sees it otherwise
People have been wondering why I and so many others keep talking up Rubio when Trump keeps winning states.
It's because the race will inevitably boil down to Trump and Cruz versus the surviving rival from the GOP establishment, which does, in fact, exist, and which can't abide either of those fellows. So that establishment stands prepared to lather Rubio, who has now vanquished establishment rival Jeb, with all the money he needs if he can survive competitively to March 15.
After that, big states will fall rapidly like dominoes with primaries that won't apportion delegates according to vote percentages, as is the case early, but as winner-take-all affairs, with the winner being the candidate with a mere plurality in that three-man battle royal.
The calendar was set up that way for the very purpose of facilitating an establishment-funded stretch run by the anointed candidate.
My bet remains that Rubio, with the help next week of places like Arkansas, will remain competitive as of March 15 and then win more than his share of the winner-take-all states after that.
Perhaps! Predicting the future is hard and polls aren't destiny. But I think the calendar that Brummett references clearly favors Trump. The issue, I suspect, is that it simply remains unthinkable
that a such a buffoonish figure could actually win the GOP nomination. It is unthinkable! But that's what's happening.
Sam Wang of Princeton University has estimated
that because of the pseudo-proportional rules, in a field of four candidates, an average-across-states vote share of 30 percent could potentially net 50 percent of the delegates through Super Tuesday. Trump is ahead of that pace.
Daniel Drezner at the WaPo argues
that it was precisely all the confident predictions from pundits and others that a Trump win was impossible that left the GOP establishment asleep:
My hypothesis is that GOP decision-makers also read the same analyses and concluded that they did not need to do anything to stop Trump. Sure, his poll numbers stayed robust even after he kept saying racist and insulting things, but there were good auxiliary hypotheses to explain why that was the case. They kept reading analysis after analysis in 2015 about how Donald Trump had little chance of winning the GOP nomination. They read smart take after smart take telling them that Trump didn’t have a chance. Even as the media covered Trump, even as late as the South Carolina debate, pundits were also talking about how his latest transgressive comment would doom his chances.
So GOP party leaders didn’t take any action. Except that the reason smart analysts believed Trump had no chance was because they thought GOP leaders would eventually take action.
Everyone was so sure that the party would decide, in other words, that the party didn't get around to deciding until it was too late.
Tonight will be an important test for an establishment left grasping at straws. If Rubio pulls off a shocking upset, it could turn the race upside down (though he'd still be behind!). If Trump wins handily? It might be time for the Republican party to welcome its new orange overlord.