In Michigan and Mississippi, Donald Trump performed. He didn’t underperform or overperform. He got the votes that many anticipated he would get and beat Ted Cruz by good margins. Some will spin Cruz’s 2nd place finish in Michigan as a victory and winning Idaho was a nice consolation prize, but the bottom line is that Tuesday was a good night for Trump because he performed as expected. As long as John Kasich and Marco Rubio stay in the race, all Trump has to do is perform as expected and he will be the GOP nominee for President.
In other words, Trump can be mediocre and still have nothing but great nights ahead.
Kasich, despite all of his calls for hitting his home turf and thinking that an open convention would be fun, is playing for the VP spot. He’d like to be Cruz’s VP but he’ll take Trump’s as well as long as Chris Christie doesn’t have it locked up (which he probably doesn’t). His argument is that if he can win Ohio, he can deliver Ohio in the general election.
Rubio seems to be lost in a death spiral which is unfortunate because he really is the future of the party. He could be Cruz’s VP if they can somehow wipe away the bad blood between them. He could go into the private sector and spend the next 3-7 years honing his skills, making even more connections, and preparing himself to have a Romneyesque return to the Presidential nomination spotlight. His talents are unquestionable and he’s young enough to be a future President. Unfortunately, winning Florida will probably not mean that he’ll drop out. He’ll have a license to stay in it to the end.
This is where it gets stupid. Their personal paths are aligned with Trump’s path to the nomination. When Trump called for Rubio to drop out after big losses on Saturday, it was a bluff. Trump can lock up the nomination next Tuesday by winning Ohio, Florida, or both because it will demonstrate strength over his competitors on their home turf, something Trump has not been able to do so far. The opposite narrative does not apply. If Trump loses to Kasich in Ohio and Rubio in Florida, it won’t damage Trump at all. The fact that he gave them a good run for their money will allow him to shrug off those losses and ridicule both for having to spend money and campaign just to keep their home states from falling.
If, however, both Kasich and Rubio can overcome denial and leave the race now, Trump’s victories in the two states can be mitigated by the surge it would create for Cruz.
The longer that Kasich and Rubio stay in the race and play spoiler against Cruz, the more likely it is that Trump is the nominee. Neither Kasich nor Rubio has a path to the nomination even with an open convention unless the RNC makes a decree that would fracture the party completely.