Marcomentum is finished. John Kasich has won his State and will now fade back into his smarm ether. So it's finally, after nine interminable months, down to the Republican vs. Democrat matchup that the GOP presidential race could and should have been so long ago.
Last night's scoreboard:
FLORIDA: Trump 45.8% (99), Rubio 27.0%, Cruz 17% (aka the stake through the heart of "Latino Heat"
ILLINOIS: Trump 39.0% (65), Cruz 30% (winner-take-all sort of - Kasich took four delegates from winning two of the State's eighteen congressional districts)
MISSOURI: Trump 40.7% (47), Cruz 40.5% (5)
NORTH CAROLINA: Trump 40.2% (29), Cruz 36.8% (27)
NORTH MARIANA ISLANDS: Trump 72.4% (9), Cruz 24.0%
OHIO: Kasich 46.7% (66), Trump 36.0%, Cruz 14.4%
TOTAL: Trump 41.6% (249), Cruz 24.7% (32)
OVERALL: Trump 39.5% (709), Cruz 28.7% (402)
Looks like Trump had a good night, doesn't it? That's because he did. He finished off Rubio in his home State, and while Kasich denied him running up the delegate score even more, Cruz's non-competitiveness in the big States all but shut him out everywhere except proportional North Carolina.
But let's stop for a moment and conduct a little thought experiment.
The one thing upon which Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio came to agree in the past month is stopping Donald Trump. Last night the Texas senator reached out in conciliation and that common cause to Rubio backers to join his banner:
Rubio suspending his campaign frees up his 169 delegates. Let's suppose, for the sake of this thought experiment, that they move themselves over to Cruz's "pile". Moving the previously cast votes over as well, the overall score becomes....
DELEGATES: Trump 709, Cruz 571
POPULAR VOTE: Cruz 46.3%, Trump 39.5%
Now the full implications of last night's results and events come into focus. First, Rubio's withdrawal essentially offsets Trump's delegate lead gains, keeping Cruz within striking distance. Second, and more importantly, going forward in a de facto two-man race, Cruz will have the advantage, as the polls have long indicated. Even last night, the results would have been, if not "fundamentally" transformed, than at least significantly:
FLORIDA: Trump 45.8% (99), Cruz/Rubio 44.0%
ILLINOIS: Trump 39.0% (50), Cruz/Rubio 38.6% (16)
MISSOURI: Cruz/Rubio 46.7% (52), Trump 40.7%
NORTH CAROLINA: Cruz/Rubio 44.5% (33), Trump 40.2% (29)
NORTH MARIANA ISLANDS: Trump 72.4% (9), Cruz/Rubio 25.1%
OHIO: Kasich 46.7% (66), Trump 36.0%, Cruz/Rubio 15.7%
TOTAL: Trump 41.6% (187), Cruz/Rubio 37.2% (101)
A 131-delegate shift away from Trump under this scenario. And on a very good night for him, too.
This still leaves Trump as the front-runner, of course. But without a clear path to a delegate majority before the Cleveland convention. He would need to capture about 60% of the remaining delegates up for grabs to clinch the nomination before that point, which is certainly possible. But with a combined "#NeverTrump" bloc under Senator Cruz deployed against him, that's far from a guarantee. It will depend on whether the "bandwagon"/momentum effect proves to be stronger than anti-Trump opposition steadfastness and resolution. If the latter proves the stronger - as, again, polls have consistently indicated up to now - then while Senator Cruz has, of course, even longer odds at surging to a pre-Cleveland delegate majority, a delegate lead for him might still be possible.
In short, a contested convention is a very strong possibility, and the only way to stop Trump. Which Cruz, having demurred publicly considering previously, is now touting, since it's the last game in town:
It's important to clarify nomenclature at this point: A brokered convention is where no candidate has a majority and the party poobahs pick the nominee, whereas a contested convention is where no candidate has a majority and the candidates and delegates decide the nomination. Cruz's cited example of the 1976 GOP convention is an excellent one, if not particularly encouraging, since he would most likely be Ronald Reagan in that scenario to Trump's Gerald Ford, and even if Cruz does arrive in Cleveland with more delegates than Trump, Trumplicans (to say nothing of The Donald himself) will never accept anything other than a Trump nomination regardless of the numbers and probably start a riot on the convention floor if their cult leader doesn't get the nod.
It's all going to hell even in the best case scenario, in other words. But Cruz will still fight the good fight and make the two-pronged case that Trump is neither a "populist" nor a "conservative" nor a "Republican" but the New York liberal Democrat conman he is, and that he is totally unelectable in November.
Speaking of which.....
Will those numbers diminish between now and November? Probably. But from these towering heights, it still means a split GOP and a Hillary or Sanders presidency.
And that will be the proof in the pudding, as it were: What do Trumplicans want more? To keep another (declared) Democrat out of the White House, or to "burn down" the Republican Party? Because their hero can...not...win.
Parting thought via Ramesh Ponnuru:
Republicans could change the rules of their convention to permit some kind of preferential ballot. The rule change would have to be proposed in advance, so that members of the convention’s rules committee have time to consider it before voting on it during the week before all the delegates arrive in Cleveland. Then, if it passes the committee, a majority of delegates would have to vote for it too. When it came time for the delegates to vote on the presidential nomination, delegates would rank their candidates — with pledged delegates putting the candidates to whom they are pledged at the top of their lists. It would probably also be necessary — to reduce the likelihood of accusations of dirty tricks — for each delegate to make his or her rank orderings public immediately after the vote.
It’s a process that would generate a majority for a candidate automatically: There would no need for multiple ballots, and thus no politicking between rounds of voting. The process would also be formally neutral. My guess is that most of the delegates who are not pledged to either Trump or Cruz will prefer the senator to the billionaire, and so the process will work to Cruz’s advantage. But it is certainly possible that Trump would win the instant runoff — and even possible, if less likely, that a third candidate could. Whoever lost the nomination contest would have no legitimate complaint with this process, which would be entirely above-board. Supporters of the losing candidate would, of course, still be able to withhold their votes from the nominee in the fall, by voting for a third-party candidate, or voting for the Democrat nominee, or just staying home. But they would have no grounds for arguing that the nomination had been stolen. [emphases added]
Not that Trumplicans wouldn't riot over a result they didn't like anyway. Or, indeed, riot if their candidate does win, just on general principles. It's what they do, and who they are.
Bottom line is, a contested convention that stops Trump is the difference between losing in November with honor and the Right still having a party and the GOP becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Left. Forever.
And no constitutional conservative should have to ponder that choice for even a femtosecond.
UPDATE: Trump deploys the Hillary scarecrow, which his very candidacy stupendously contradicts, and which I don't think will be any more effective than the Nancy Pelosi scarecrow was in the 2006 midterms.
UPDATE II: Trump is going into his prevent defense.
UPDATE III: I thought Senate Republicans wanted to stop Trump.