When Mitt Romney tested the waters last week in his anti-Trump speech to see if he still had enough support to steal the nomination, he recommended that Republican voters should cast their votes for whoever was closest to beating Donald Trump. This started a strange cascade of strategy recommendations and wishful thinking that concluded with the idea of John Kasich taking Ohio, Marco Rubio taking Florida, and then both of them dropping out and endorsing Ted Cruz.
No. That’s not how it would go down. In fact, that’s not how it should go down even if the goal is to stop Donald Trump no matter what it takes. Let’s look at this logically and without the suspicious lens of Romney’s ambitions getting in the way.
First, let’s assume a modest 60/40 split if they were to drop out now with 60% of their support going to Cruz and 40% going to Trump. I believe it would lean more in Cruz’s favor, particularly Rubio’s supporters, but let’s keep it conservative.
Second, let’s assume no wildcards such as the addition of one of them to either ticket as VP. I know everyone loves to run those scenarios in the hypothetical ether, but no candidate likes to be locked into a running mate this early in the contest. If it happens, so be it, but let’s assume it won’t.
Finally, let’s assume that Trump exceeds Cruz in money spent going forward. He hasn’t had to spend much of his own money so far with under $20 million loaned to the campaign, but if he feels threatened and if he really is close to as rich as he says, then the days of being frugal would end if the polls turn on him dramatically.
With those in place, let’s use FiveThirtyEight’s Polls+ forecasts to get an understanding of how the states would likely play out if both were to stay in through their home state primaries:
- Florida – Trump (73% favored) – 99 Delegates
- Illinois – Trump (57%) – 69
- North Carolina – Trump (45%) – 72
- Ohio – Kasich (59%) – 66
- Missouri – No Recent Poll Data but likely Trump – 52
Even if Rubio can pull out a big upset, which seems very unlikely, Trump still gets the lion’s share of the delegates – 292 – and Cruz gets none. He might be able to pull out Missouri, but he’s projected poorly everywhere else. Now, let’s look at the dynamic if the two other candidates were to drop out before the 15th.
- Florida – Trump still wins in the 60/40 model with a large lead even if Rubio drops out.
- Illinois – Trump is ahead of Cruz in the polls+ model by 11% with Rubio higher and Kasich lower. It would be close, but Cruz would have about a 50/50 shot at winning the state, particularly with the unpopularity of Rahm Emanuel and other politicians that Trump supported to the tune of $50K+. That needs to be in an ad in Illinois all week (in case a Super PAC is reading this).
- North Carolina – Cruz would be heavily favored to win if both dropped out and would still likely win if only Rubio dropped out.
- Ohio – Trump would win.
- Missouri – Cruz would win.
If they drop out before March 15, Cruz could get as many as 193 delegates. While Trump would get Ohio’s 66, he’d lose North Carolina’s 72, Missouri’s 52, and possibly Illinois’ 69.
Perhaps more importantly is the momentum that would be triggered by outright winning Super Tuesday 3 and going into future matches head-to-head. The March 21 debate would be Cruz’s best since his skills are suited to one-on-one matchups and the airtime would force more substance and fewer Trumpisms.
There are those who are trying to make this more complicated than it really is. If Kasich and Rubio simply get out of the way now rather than playing math games with delegates and a brokered convention, Trump can be beaten with relative ease.