Conventional wisdom—especially that of “The Republican Establishment”—says Rubio is the last hope of the Republican Party to stop a risky Trump (or even Cruz) nomination. But such thoughts are of people in denial, and, as with most other things this election cycle, are flat-out wrong and months late in their thinking. If the GOP elites were smart, they’d back popular sitting Ohio Gov. John Kasich instead, as he has a better chance than Rubio to get more delegates and mount a final stand against Trump, though the chances of this succeeding are incredibly remote.
Still, it is worth going through the scenarios for why Kasich has a higher chance of doing better than Rubio, and especially Cruz.
First, let’s get Cruz out of the way. Cruz is very popular with a certain segment of Republican voters, mainly Evangelical Christians. In fact, Cruz banked his entire campaign strategy on dominating with Evangelical Christians; he got a commanding plurality of their support in Iowa, his only victory so far. From that from that point on though, it’s been all downhill for Cruz, as Trump not only won the next three contests in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, but he outperformed Cruz and all other candidates with Evangelicals in all three states.
Today, on Super Tuesday, of the 12 states holding Republican contests, Cruz has only been up in polls conducted since Trump’s New Hampshire victory in one state: Texas, his home state, and even there some polls have Trump just behind or tied as of Monday. It is highly likely that Cruz will either lose all states voting today or will just win Texas, either narrowly or clearly-but-modestly, but since Texas is proportional Trump could get almost as many delegates as Cruz even if he loses. Regardless of Texas, losing almost every state on Super Tuesday is near-certain for Cruz; such is not the performance of a viable candidate, period, full-stop.
As for Rubio, he is not likely to in any states today, as all polling since Trump’s first win in New Hampshire has Trump up by double digits in every Super Tuesday state polled but Texas, and in most of these states, often generously into double-digit-territory. After today, it is very probable that Rubio will 0 for 16, and Trump 14 or 15 for 16 out of all the contests thus far. And Cruz, even if he loses Texas, may still earn more delegates than Rubio today.
Today’s contests also include some that only award candidates delegates if they hit either 15% (Arkansas, Oklahoma) or 20% (Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont) of the vote. Based on current polling averages of recent polls, Both Rubio and Cruz are in danger of being shut out of getting any delegates in many of these states; Rubio in particular seems likely to be shut out of delegate-rich Texas, with twice as many delegates (155) as any other state voting today, while both Rubio and Cruz are perilously being close to being shut out in Georgia, with the second-most delegates at stake (76), and Alabama, with the third most delegates at stake (50).
The news does not get better for Trump’s rivals after today: Trump is leading in all the states holding contests in the coming days and weeks that have been polled since Trump started winning. With a dominant performance today, Trump could very well be in a position to increase his support and shut out Rubio and Cruz delegate-wise in other contests with 15%-20% thresholds for awarding delegates in Louisiana, Puerto Rico, Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, DC, and Utah. Additionally, two of the states voting two weeks after today are Florida and Ohio, the home states of his rivals Rubio and Kasich, respectively. Both are winner-take-all, and Trump is leading in both states.
In Florida, the three polls conducted since Trump started winning have Trump up between 7 and 20 percentage points (14.33 avg.); if Rubio heads into Florida on March 15th having won zero or close to zero contests out of the 27 contests that will have been held before March 15th, it is hard to imagine his numbers being better than they are now in Florida and very easy to imagine them being worse. Furthermore, Rubio does not have the approval of Florida voters: a recent poll found that only 31% of Floridians approved of his performance as one of two Florida’s senators, while 55% disapproved; in addition, Floridians view Trump both more favorably and less unfavorably than Rubio.
Ohio, where John Kasich is the sitting popular governor, tells quite a different story: the only two polls recently released had Trump beating Kasich by just 5 and 2 percentage points (3.5 avg.), and unlike Rubio, Kasich is well-liked in his home state: the last time a survey measuring his approval as governor was conducted, in October, he set a positive personal record, with 62% approving his performance and only 29% disapproving, while the latest poll that had Trump beating him by 5 percentage points also has Kasich with a 77% favorable to 14% unfavorable rating among likely Republican primary voters in Ohio, compared with 57% favorable and 36% unfavorable for Trump.
All the above is to make the points that 1.) Rubio maybe not be in much of a better position than Kasich before both their states vote on October 15th and 2.) Kasich is in a much better position to be competitive in, and even win, his home state than Rubio is in his.
Still, Trump, with the massive amount of momentum he will gain from his many victories today (and possibly a clean sweep), could also expand his lead enough in Ohio to keep Kasich from being competitive there, as already seems to be happening to Rubio in Florida. Yet—with luck, and/or the “Establishment” rallying to his aide, and/or perhaps racking up either some strong second-place finishes in some of the more moderate states or maybe even a few unlikely wins in such states—if Kasich manages to keep it close in his home state from now until then, he might just be able to eke out a win in Ohio and claim all its 66 winner-take-all delegates; it’s hardly an inconceivable scenario.
If this happens, the final stretch of the Republican nomination contests are stacked heavy with moderate states, including delegate rich states like California (172) and New York (95), and a good chunk are winner-take-all, including California (statewide and by congressional district). This makes Kasich the only true threat to Trump, as he is the most positive and anti-Trump candidate by far and he can (fairly) be called a moderate, and called so especially compared with Rubio, who is, objectively, very far from being a moderate on most issues. Even if Kasich performs well in the homestretch states, though, it is hard to envision him catching up to Trump in delegates; much more likely is a scenario where Kasich comes in 2nd with a good chunk of delegates, enough to keep Trump from getting the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination and forcing a brokered convention.
But with Trump already (slightly) leading in Ohio before his big day today, even this scenario is very unlikely, it is just far more likely than anything involving Rubio gaining momentum or sizable numbers of delegates.
With so many different stars need to align in the heavens for this best-case-scenario for “The Establishment,” chances are still close to 100% that the Republican nominee will be Donald Trump.