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How the Establishment Can Hold On

The Super Tuesday results are in. Here’s the scorecard (delegate counts are preliminary):

Trump won the night, but based on the delegate allocations, maybe not as convincingly as expected. What do these results mean for the state of the race? Who can claim victory from Super Tuesday, who has momentum, and who survives?

The good news for the GOP is that Super Tuesday was not its worst nightmare. Trump did not sweep all seven southern states, including an upset of Cruz in Texas. And he did not keep Rubio and Cruz below the 20 percent thresholds in Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama, thereby claiming the states’ delegates all for himself.

The bad news for the GOP is that Super Tuesday was pretty close to its second-to-worst nightmare. Trump dominated the night while Cruz did very well in the delegate count, and Rubio and Kasich achieved just enough to survive. Even also-ran Ben Carson, who accomplished nothing, said he was staying in (though he may have just changed his mind).


Trump had a very good night, taking four of the five states in the so-called SEC primary—Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Arkansas. These states were to be Cruz’s launching pad for his flight to the nomination. Instead, Trump beat him by an average of 15 points in these states, as well as in Virginia. And the billionaire’s sweep was not limited to southern states. He won Massachusetts by more than 30 points and Vermont, narrowly, over Kasich.

And Trump finally put to rest claims that his support is capped at 35 percent. Following up his 46 percent victory in Nevada, he won Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Massachusetts with 39 percent to 49 percent of the vote. Trump also managed to keep Rubio below the 20 percent thresholds in Texas and Alabama, denying the Florida senator a share of the delegates in those states. All told, over the past month, Trump has scored victories in three New England states, five southern states, a mid-Atlantic state, and one state in the West.

For Rubio, on the other hand, it was a miserable night. He claimed a win in the Minnesota caucuses and a strong second place in Virginia. But he finished third in nine states, including Massachusetts and Vermont, which were thought to be hospitable to the insiders, Rubio and Kasich. In fact they were hospitable, but Rubio and Kasich split the establishment vote, and Kasich ended up beating him in both states.

As for Cruz, as soon as Texas and Oklahoma were declared for him, he began spinning his victories as a compelling reason for Rubio, Kasich, and Carson to leave the race. Cruz had a surprisingly strong showing in the delegate count, finishing only 25 delegates short of Trump. But there’s less here than meets the eye.

Cruz lost the other four southern states that were crucial to his theory of the race—Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and Arkansas, and he lost them by double-digit margins. In Georgia, he finished in a virtual tie with Rubio, and only by the narrowest of margins did he avoid being shutout of delegate allocations in Alabama. The Texan won the Alaska caucuses in a tight race with Trump, but otherwise, he showed little strength outside of the south. He finished fourth in Massachusetts and Vermont, and he failed to pull off an upset in the Minnesota caucuses like he did a month ago next door in Iowa.

And almost half of Cruz’s delegates came from his home state, essentially rendering him a favorite-son candidate. Trump took more than twice as many delegates as Cruz did from the other four SEC states. More significantly, Cruz trails, often badly, in the major states coming up—Michigan, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, and Ohio. Three of these states are winner-take-all, in which he has no chance and will be shutout of the delegate allocations. So, Rubio and Kasich are unlikely to heed his call to drop out.

For Kasich, expectations were low and he probably exceeded them. He beat Rubio for second place in Massachusetts and came close to stealing first place from Trump in Vermont. But in the other nine states, the Ohio governor averaged only 5 percent of the vote.

But the crucial measure of a candidate’s success is how he performs against his strategy for winning the nomination, not the number of states or delegates he wins. Since Cruz built his strategy around dominating Super Tuesday, especially the southern states, his performance has to be judged a failure. But his big win in Texas and the bragging rights he won in Oklahoma and Alaska give him reason to continue, if not an apparent path to the nomination.

The night was even harder on Rubio. Not only does he lack a credible pathway to the convention, his victory in Minnesota gave him only the thinnest of covers for an abysmal performance. Despite having huge advantages in money, establishment endorsements, and organization, he lost to Kasich in Massachusetts and lost big to him in Vermont. Rubio must find a way to recover in the next 12 days or he’s finished.

As for Trump, he did not deliver knockout blows to Rubio or Cruz, but he has them both on the ropes. He took 41 percent of the delegates Tuesday night and now has a commanding lead. His momentum is undiminished going into the eight state contests over the next five days and the crucial big-state primaries on March 15, where he leads in every poll.

The institutional GOP is frantically trying to stop him, and in that regard, the March 5 caucuses in Kansas, Kentucky, and Maine are worth watching. Caucuses are notoriously difficult to poll or predict, and strong ground organizations can turn potential losers into winner. Cruz’s strong performances in the Iowa, Alaska, and Minnesota caucuses are examples On the other hand, he was overwhelmed by Trump in the Nevada caucuses.

No doubt, the GOP establishment will try to slow Trump’s momentum in the March 5 caucus states, so watch for signs that they make common cause with Cruz in an attempt to do so. If they fail, Trump will steamroll into the primaries on March 8 in Michigan, Idaho, and Mississippi where, today, he looks strong.

So, Rubio and Kasich have days, not weeks, to show life before the big winner-take-all primaries in Florida, Illinois, and Ohio. If they are dead-in-the-water after votes are counted on March 8, Trump will have the upper hand. Polls in all three states show him in the lead. Only Ohio is close.

If GOP leaders have any sense, they’ll stop calling for Kasich to end his campaign and start sending him money. If Kasich drops out, Trump is likely to carry Ohio, claim its 66 delegates, and become the nominee-in-waiting. For GOP leaders to have any hope of denying Trump the nomination, Kasich must win Ohio and Rubio must take Florida on the Ides of March.

Philip Diehl is a former chief of staff of the U.S. Treasury Department, staff director of the Senate Finance Committee, and director of the U.S. Mint. 

22 Comments (Open | Close)

22 Comments To "How the Establishment Can Hold On"

#1 Comment By Kurt Gayle On March 2, 2016 @ 3:32 pm

Interesting that Philip Diehl, a powerful Dallas Democrat — who on the first day of the Clinton administration was appointed to the U.S. Treasury Department, was then named Chief of Staff to Treasury Secretary Bentsen, and who was later appointed Director of the US Mint by the same William Jefferson Clinton – is now (twice in 3 days at TAC) giving advice to none other than the Republican Party Establishment: “How the Establishment Can Hold On.”

#2 Comment By GFC On March 2, 2016 @ 3:57 pm

Another day, another chin-stroking piece on what obscure strategy the GOP might pursue as of publication time to defeat Trump. Ho-hum. At some point you people should consider Trump going forward instead of the last stand of the GOPe.

#3 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On March 2, 2016 @ 4:19 pm

No way the Marcobot takes Florida. He was an absentee Senator and is unloved.

#4 Comment By cecelia On March 2, 2016 @ 4:45 pm

My issue here is that we may end up with Trump as our President. This disturbs me but not as much as having “find out if sand glows in the dark” Cruz or Marcobot.

The problem here for the GOP “establishment” is not that they had a bad strategy for the primaries – it is that the American people especially GOP voters do not support their policy positions. They could put up Mother Theresa and if she ran on the GOP platform that Rubio and Cruz are running on she would lose.

The majority of Americans do not support tearing up the Iran deal, they do not support prohibiting women from getting birth control, they do not support eliminating the IRS or even repealing ACA. They do not support the elimination of medicare or attacks on social security or lowering taxes on the wealthy and corporations. Yet these are all policy positions of the GOP. They definitely do not want to find out if sand glows in the dark after it has been nuked.

As long as the GOP establishment backs such policies – Trump will keep on winning. The problem is not Trump – it is the GOP establishment.

#5 Comment By Ken Zaretzke On March 2, 2016 @ 4:49 pm

I can imagine voting for Kasich, but never, never would I vote for Caspar Milquetoast (a.k.a. Marco Rubio) in the general. As it happens, Trump easily leads Milquetoast in Florida while slightly trailing Kasich in Ohio. The establishment’s predictable next move after March 15, when Trump takes Florida, will be to join Randy Barnett’s call for a third party, the “Constitution Party.” All one can say about that is that Barnett is a guy who finds a right to gay marriage in the Constitution.

Will the establishment be so foolish (the “GOPe” indeed) as to bolt to a third party that has zero chance of capturing more than a minority of evangelicals or practicing Catholics? Add that people like Barnett (and the neocons) are ardent advocates of free trade policies that harm ordinary Americans, and you can see why a third party by *these* people will go absolutely nowhere.

#6 Comment By Clint On March 2, 2016 @ 5:06 pm

Trump has The Washington Establishment running around with their hair on fire.
Meanwhile, The Cubano Twins, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, two career Lawyer/Politicians with their Neoconservative Big Money Donors can’t seem to buy enough votes.

#7 Comment By RockinRobbie On March 2, 2016 @ 5:16 pm

Cruz is the only hope for the establishment (ironically). Rubio will stick around through Florida and probably lose. If he drops out, it’ll be a Trump/Cruz race that may be somewhat competitive. Unfortunately for Cruz, if Trump wins both Florida and Ohio, he will be too far ahead to stop so Cruz’s only hope is for Trump to win Florida and Kasich to win Ohio. If Trump loses both Florida and Ohio, it’ll remain a stalemate and Trump will eventually win. Any other scenario is wishful thinking.

#8 Comment By todd On March 2, 2016 @ 6:02 pm

I was partly astonished but mostly scared by how much Trump sounded like a “real” candidate during his press conference last night. Xanax, maybe. A shift to the “prevent” defense, more likely. My only hope is that a reasonable sounding Trump loses some of the steam that has propelled him so far.

#9 Comment By John Oliver On March 2, 2016 @ 6:35 pm


HBO John Oliver on Trump. At least, we should laugh some!

#10 Comment By Jack On March 2, 2016 @ 8:44 pm

Explain why having the establishment win back control of the GOP is better than Trump? I say let them pound sand. I am still waiting for a real conservative to rise from the ashes–but Trump will do just fine for now as a wrecking ball.

#11 Comment By Mark On March 2, 2016 @ 9:06 pm

Trump has a history of changing his mind, so what he will do if elected is unpredictable. And given the fact that Trump is uncontrollable by typical political means, he is a threat to the established powers of the GOP. Those characteristics of unpredictability and uncontrollability, when viewed through the lens of the disaffected voter, may appear as agility and flexibility in a candidate not beholden to political doctrine or finances. The “art of the deal” may be more attractive to the electorate than the present stalemate in Washington.

#12 Comment By JR On March 2, 2016 @ 9:15 pm

Trump has the nomination. Cruz is playing the laziest strategy there is: play pimp for a political “Jesus.” He has topped out.

The GOP is peddling dog food even its base has no interest in. The party is a funding purse without a brain, a coherent ideology, or a loyal base…Cruz is simply the candidate the dead-endears vote for out of habit…

#13 Comment By Alex On March 3, 2016 @ 12:57 am

If the establishment is foolish enough to try to follow the Ides analogy to the end, there’ll be a riot, even despite that sorry lot got all chances to fail such an attempt. But I don’t think they are that foolish.

#14 Comment By Mark On March 3, 2016 @ 6:31 am

At Kurt Gayle: a “powerful Dallas Democrat” giving advice to the Republican Party Establishment? Outrageous indeed! Given their track record over recent decades and the present state of the GOP, maybe they should take advice from someone outside their ranks. That is the message the GOP base is sending them in this year’s primary races.

#15 Comment By Lee On March 3, 2016 @ 9:12 am


They may not be that foolish, but they most certainly are a stupid and arrogant lot.

#16 Comment By TB On March 3, 2016 @ 9:51 am

It the Ides of March dream comes true, the Pied Piper will parade his children out of Cleveland and into the swamp. If the dream doesn’t come true, Trumpet will lead what remains of the GOP out of Cleveland and into the Erie. Either way, the feet get wet.

#17 Comment By JLF On March 3, 2016 @ 9:55 am

The problem for Cruz and the GOP establishment is the classic Tragedy of the Commons conundrum. And since the ultimate GOP political question has always been “what’s in it for me?” it makes the path going forward almost impossible. Come the Ides of March: “All Hail, Citizen Trump!”

#18 Comment By MarcoSolo On March 3, 2016 @ 11:05 am

The reason Rubio is being thrust in our faces by the “establishment” is because he is weak and controllable – another idiot puppet emperor as Rome teeters. Trump has a lean and hungry look and that threatens their cushy little sinecures, smug, self-congratulatory xyzs, and they are afraid of what he is capable of doing. If there were a better alternative I’d be for him or her, but I can live with Trump. Anyone but Hillary.

#19 Comment By NJguy On March 3, 2016 @ 12:30 pm

Seems a decent amount of people are assuming if Rubio loses as expected in Florida and drops out the establishment is going to back Cruz over Trump? How much evidence is there for this happening, my guess is a decent amount of high profile Republicans don’t support either candidate until one eventually pulls away. I just can’t imagine someone such as John McCain endorsing Cruz.

Anyways I still don’t think Cruz would have much of a chance in a head to head matchup with Trump. The opinions of Sean Hannity and the “conservatives” of the New York Times Op-Ed page means nothing to someone who has had their job shipped to India or no longer recognizes the neighborhood they live in, these voters will give the nomination to Trump.

#20 Comment By todd On March 3, 2016 @ 1:12 pm

6 years of all-or-nothing, fight-Obama-at-every-corner, politics has left a constituency with expectations of everything and 100% of nothing.

Seriously, I lost count of how many times congress voted in vain to repeal Obamacare.

Cruz’s shutting down the government tantrum?

Reagan would cringe, “Die-hard conservatives thought that if I couldn’t get everything I asked for, I should jump off the cliff with the flag flying-go down in flames. No, if I can get 70 or 80 percent of what it is I’m trying to get … I’ll take that and then continue to try to get the rest in the future.”

#21 Comment By John King On March 4, 2016 @ 11:33 am

What fantasyland do you live in, Cecilia? What Republican of any standing has advocating outlawing contraception or repealing Social Security or abolishing the IRS or Medicare? Since corporate taxes here are the highest in the world, a credible case could be made to lower them if the effort were only made, and it would be a lot easier if rates were also indexed to the relative recompense of the the lowest 30% of a company’s employees to the highest 1%.

#22 Comment By Robert Cogan On March 4, 2016 @ 9:07 pm

Both establishments, or rather the thoroughly corrupted “bipartisan, centrist” regime pursuing the “Washington Consensus,” deserve to lose hold.

Clinton is as hawkish as Trump. But there remains a good argument for a (difficult) way toward Peace. Americans are really angry about lower pay, worse jobs, perpetual debt, chronic threats of medical bankruptcy, retirement insecurity and endless failures in widening war. As our presidents waste $trillions and kill or make refugees of millions people around the world come to hate Americans. It’s not our Bushes, our Clintons who are exposed by this to revenge terrorism. It is we, ordinary Americans! Congress has refused to limit presidential war making. But Republicans have proved the ability of parties to block change.

We are rightfully so angry we think to vote for the lesser evil. I argue that no worse domestic policies the “greater evil” presidential candidate is likely to get away with is worse, for all Americans, than continuing our endless Middle East war. True Conservatives (patriots, nationalists) should call for a vote strike. I publicly declare, and urge you to do the same, that I will NOT vote for the presidential candidate of either major party unless the party FORBIDS, in its platform, further war activities in the Middle East. I’m an American nobody. I have but one vote, but I swear neither party will get it unless that party FORBIDS, in its platform, further war activities in the Middle East! It can substitute DISENGAGEMENT, cease fire unless fired upon, and protective evacuation of threatened minorities with limited, subsidized resettlement and protection in willing, mainly local countries. But our war junkie Administrations need to have their “hands tied!”