The Super Tuesday results are in. Here’s the scorecard (delegate counts are preliminary):
- Donald Trump: seven states; 234 delegates
- Ted Cruz: three states; 209 delegates
- Marco Rubio: one state; 100 delegates
- John Kasich: no states; 19 delegates
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.