Ted Cruz had a very good Saturday with wins in the Kansas and Maine caucuses by a wide margin and competitive second-place finishes in Kentucky and Louisiana. Trump held on in the last two states thanks to the lead he had built up through early voting, while Cruz prevailed among voters casting ballots yesterday. Cruz had notched two more wins for a total of six overall, and for the moment he is not that far behind Trump in the delegate count (Trump has 382 and Cruz has 300). Cruz is proving to be the strongest candidate in caucuses. His bid resembles Romney’s ’08 campaign in that he has strong organization and support from activists, but also like Romney’s first effort he doesn’t do quite as well in primaries with larger electorates. Trump appears to have stalled coming in to Saturday’s elections, but it remains to be seen if that prevents him from winning anywhere over the next two weeks.
As for Rubio, last night was another embarrassment as he came in third in three states and fourth in Maine. That marks the third time this week that Rubio has come in behind Kasich in the Northeast, and presages similar disappointments for Rubio in later blue-state contests. Whatever effect his attacks on Trump may have had on the front-runner, they did him no good and appear to have caused a collapse in his own support. Unlike Christie’s kamikaze attack on him, Rubio’s attempt to bring Trump down seems only to have hastened his own campaign’s end without putting much of a dent in his target. Rubio’s support was always limited, and his recent antics have reduced it. A win in Puerto Rico today for Rubio won’t change the fact that in almost every contested race Rubio has lost and more often than not ended up behind the top two candidates, and there’s still no guarantee that he’ll win today’s primary. There are some calls for Rubio to drop out before Florida votes to save him further humiliation, but after repeatedly insisting that he’ll win there I don’t see how he can back out of the race now.
This Tuesday, Republicans are voting in Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, and Michigan. Trump appears to be on track to do very well in the last two, where he has a 20-point lead in Michigan and a 24-point lead in Mississippi in a poll released last week. There has been no polling for the other two, so it’s unclear what we should expect. In 2012, Romney easily won both Hawaii and Idaho, and McCain also won both in 2008, so it’s possible that Rubio might be competitive in these states, but there’s no way to know yet. Considering how poorly Rubio has done almost everywhere else, he probably won’t win anywhere on Tuesday and Cruz stands to benefit most from his decline. The real contest has been between Trump and Cruz for some time, and this week has made that impossible to ignore any longer.