Marco Rubio’s Path To Victory After Super Tuesday, By The Numbers

RS: Marco Rubio’s Path To Victory After Super Tuesday, By The Numbers

Mister One on One

Super Tuesday ended up not being quite so super for anyone in the GOP primary. Donald Trump was supposed to break out and put the race away, and instead lost 4 states, won 3 more by narrow margins, and looked very much like like a beatable frontrunner, including a 17-point thumping in the biggest state in play. Ted Cruz saw his “SEC firewall” melt, finished third with fewer votes than Marco Rubio across the South, and faces a long march into far unfriendlier territory. Rubio narrowly lost Virginia after staking much of his Super Tuesday campaign on staging yet another of his furious late comebacks there, got clobbered in the delegate race even in states where he got a lot of votes, and generally continued his pattern of closing well without quite putting away his opponents. John Kasich lost his shot at his first primary win, losing Vermont by 2.3 points, and finished dead last behind Ben Carson in 7 out of 11 states. And Carson, despite finally cracking the elusive 10% barrier in two states, won delegates only in Virginia and was finally compelled to conclude he must drop out.

Let’s take a look at the lessons of Super Tuesday, as well as what they tell us about the GOP’s best choice for consolidating behind a single anti-Trump candidate, which now seems as if it will not happen until after Armageddon Tuesday on March 15. I continue to believe, for reasons both quantifiable and unquantifiable, that Marco Rubio is the best man for the job.

Marcomentum, Big Texas and the Anti-Trump Turnout Boom

All the talk heading into Super Tuesday was about Donald Trump’s “ceiling”: would he remain stuck at about a third of the vote, as he was in the first three states, or would he start cracking the 40% thresholds that signalled a “jailbreak” of follow-the-frontrunner voters to Trump?

Trump did manage to hit full jailbreak status in two states, Massachusetts (49%) and Alabama (43.4%), and perhaps more distressing to the anti-Trump forces, got close in two other states whose politics are less of a one-party cesspool, Tennessee (38.9%) and Georgia (38.8%). But his overall share of the vote was 34%; in five states he fell below a third of the vote (Arkansas, Vermont, Oklahoma, Texas and Minnesota), in the last three of those below 30%. Of his seven wins, three were by fairly close margins of victory:

Virginia: 34.7% to Rubio’s 31.9%, a margin of 28,918 votes. John Kasich, who finished fourth, drew 96,519 votes in Virginia (9.4%), and Ben Carson, who finished fifth, got 60,093 (5.9%); it’s not hard to see that the minor candidates made the difference, especially Kasich, whose appeal is so different than Trump’s (Kasich is pitching to voters who are both ideologically and temperamentally moderate, while many of Trump’s voters are the former but few are the latter).

Arkansas: 32.8% to Cruz’s 30.5, a margin of just 9,271 votes. Carson, who finished fourth, got 23,173 votes (5.7%), while Kasich got 15,098 (3.7%). Again, even before you discuss the Rubio/Cruz divide, it’s clear that the minor candidates were a drag on the anti-Trump movement.

Vermont: 32.7% to Kasich’s 30.4%, a margin of 1,424 votes. Carson, who finished fifth, got more than that – 2,544 (4.2%).

So on top of the four states where he was beaten, including a 17-point loss to Cruz in Texas and a 15-point loss to Rubio in Minnesota, Trump has hardly put this race away. If you could combine the Rubio and Kasich votes and the Cruz and Carson votes, Super Tuesday would have looked like this:

Texas: Cruz 47.9%, Trump 26.7%, Rubio 22.0%
Oklahoma: Cruz 40.6%, Rubio 29.6%, Trump 28.3%
Arkansas: Cruz 36.2%, Trump 32.8%, Rubio 28.6%
Alaska: Cruz 47.3%, Trump 33.5%, Rubio 19.2%

Virginia: Rubio 41.3%, Trump 34.7%, Cruz 22.8%
Minnesota: Rubio 42.4%, Cruz 36.3%, Trump 21.3%
Vermont: Rubio 49.7%, Trump 32.7%, Cruz 13.9%

Georgia: Trump 38.8%, Rubio 30.0%, Cruz 29.8%
Tennessee: Trump 38.9%, Cruz 32.3%, Rubio 26.5%
Alabama: Trump 43.4%, Cruz 31.3%, Rubio 26.5%
Massachusetts: Trump 49.3%, Rubio 35.9%, Cruz 12.2%

If we had those results, all the talk Wednesday morning would have been about a Trump collapse. Now, obviously you can’t just allocate the minor candidates’ support like that going forward – some will go unpredictably between Rubio and Cruz, some to Trump, and – this is important to remember – some will just stay home, because they were just personally loyal to Ben Carson or because Kasich is selling a pure-moderation message that none of the other candidates are selling. It is probably the case, for example, that a good number of Kasich’s New England open-primary independent supporters would just not have voted in the Republican primary if the choices were Trump, Cruz or Rubio; a significantly higher percentage would probably have skipped it if the choices were just Trump and Cruz, given how many Kasich-style moderates regard both of them with roughly equal horror. But as Sean Trende has demonstrated with a deep dive into the exit polls I won’t rehash here, the demographic profiles of Kasich and Rubio supporters in this race are pretty closely aligned, as are the demographic profiles of Cruz and Carson supporters. Leon made the same point this morning in sketching out what Cruz would need to do in order to be the anti-Trump candidate.

Also, for all the talk about Trump driving the record-breaking turnout we’ve seen in state after state so far – Vermont and New Hampshire are the only states where turnout wasn’t up at least 20% from 2012 – there is another side to the story: in the 11 Super Tuesday states, even if you don’t count a single vote for Trump, turnout was 119.1% of 2012 turnout in those states (thus, up 19.1%); across all 15 states to vote so far, the figure is 113.3%. That’s partly due to a turnout boom for favorite son Cruz in Texas (up 43.1% without Trump voters) and significantly due to having a contested election in Virginia, where Mitt Romney’s opponents failed to make the ballot in 2012 (up 151.9%). But anti-Trump – or at least non-Trump – turnout has been greater by itself than 2012 turnout in six other states as well: Iowa (+16.4%), Nevada (+22.9%), Oklahoma (+15.1%), Arkansas (+79.4%), Minnesota (+81.5%) and Alaska (+10.6%). Whether those are voters coming out because they want to stop Trump or because they are excited by his opponents, that’s great news for the GOP’s chances of surviving Trump’s attempt at a hostile takeover.

Another sign that Trump can be taken – but that time is starting to run short – is that yet again, he fared relatively poorly among late-deciding voters. On the other hand, he did not do as poorly with late deciders as he did in Iowa or South Carolina, and he actually won them in Massachusetts and Alabama, as he had in New Hampshire), leading to his jailbreak wins there. Rubio, meanwhile, remains easily the best closer in the bunch: he’s now won late-deciding voters 7 times, winning them by double-digit margins in Nevada and Virginia and beating Trump by double-digit margins in Iowa, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Cruz won late deciders in Texas and Tennessee, Kasich in Vermont:

late deciders for rubio

Note that we don’t have entrance/exit polling for Rubio’s win in Minnesota or Cruz’s in Alaska, both caucus states.

The late charge accounts for Rubio’s fairly persistent overperformance of his polls:

Rubio outperformed his RCP average in Minnesota (14 points), in Virginia (10 points), in Oklahoma (5 points), in Arkansas (2 points), in Vermont (2 points), in Tennessee (2 points), and in Georgia (1.5 points).

That’s reason to be optimistic about Rubio going forward as the standard-bearer of the anti-Trump faction, but it’s also worrisome how far ahead Trump has been with the two-thirds or so of the electorate in each state that decided their votes more than a week in advance (Cruz in Texas is the only candidate besides Trump to win early deciders, and the massive size of his lead with them suggests that perhaps Rubio would have been wiser not to bother contesting Texas, where he got over half a million votes and 4 delegates).


The good news for Rubio is that yet again, he proved the breadth of his appeal across the map. He continues to be the only candidate besides Trump who is running a 50-state campaign. With all the votes counted aside from a few very late precincts in Arkansas and Minnesota, we can see that outside of Cruz’s home state of Texas, Rubio got 114,000 more Super Tuesday votes than Cruz did – 1,373,308 votes at last count (24.0%) to Cruz’s 1.258,940 (22.0%). That’s swamped by Cruz’s big showing in his home state, where he got nearly as many votes (1,239,158) as Trump and Rubio combined (1,259,669), such that if Trump ends up with the nomination, Texas Republicans may be printing “Don’t Blame Me, I’m From Texas” bumper stickers, and justifiably so. But it underlines the extent to which Ted Cruz depends on a particular type of voter that may be harder and harder to find in the states ahead of him than the states behind. Texas really is different.

Let’s break down the voting so far by region, grouping states that may have something politically in common. The largest region to vote so far is the South, the states below DC and east of Texas: Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas. This region is now pretty far into being done voting; Louisiana votes March 5, Mississippi and Kentucky on March 8, Florida, North Carolina, and Missouri March 15, and only one culturally quasi-South state left after Armageddon Tuesday: West Virginia May 10.

Then we have the Southwest, of which Texas and Oklahoma voted on Tuesday; Arizona votes March 22, New Mexico on June 7 at the very end.

New England is three states in – New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont – with Maine voting March 5 and Rhode Island April 26.

Two Upper Midwest states have voted, Iowa and Minnesota, both caucus states; Wisconsin votes April 5.

Two states in the West have voted, Nevada and Alaska, both caucus states; Hawaii votes March 8, Oregon May 17, Washington May 27, and California June 7.

The other regions aren’t in play yet:

The Great Plains states start March 5 in Kansas, followed by North Dakota on April 1, Nebraska May 10, and South Dakota June 7.

The Atlantic Northeast states, DC on March 12 and then New York April 19, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut and Delaware April 26.

The Mountain states were supposed to begin Super Tuesday, but Colorado cancelled its voting and Wyoming pushed back its delegate selection to March 12; Idaho kicks off March 8 followed at long intervals by Utah March 22 and Montana June 7.

The territories start March 6 in Puerto Rico, and the others (all small) vote between March 12-19.

And of course the Midwest, which begins with Michigan March 8, Illinois and Ohio march 15, Indiana May 3. Along with the Northeast, California and Florida, the Midwest is highly likely to decide the nomination.

So how have the candidates fared in these regions?

regional vote

Cruz’s entire popular vote lead over Rubio consists of his margin in Texas. He has cleaned up two states in the Southwest, but Arizona is the only big delegate prize left there, and Rubio just snagged the endorsement of New Mexico Governor Susanna Martinez.

If you had told me a few months ago that Rubio would get nearly 100,000 more votes than Cruz in the South, I’d have been sure that we’d be talking today about the Cruz campaign in the past tense. Rubio finished well ahead of Cruz in Virginia, and beat him very narrowly in South Carolina and Georgia. That was largely due to Trump eating into what was supposed to be Cruz’s voters, killing Cruz’s plan for an early knockout blow. Of course, this primary season has laid waste to a lot of plans (both Cruz and Rubio at various times floated the idea of South Carolina being a critical early win), and here we are. The March 5-15 states left in the South will likely go a very long way towards determining which of Rubio or Cruz stays in this race to the end.

Cruz also pulled just slightly ahead of Rubio in the Upper Midwest, by 59 votes pending the final vote tally in Minnesota, so that’s more or less a wash. We have not yet had a primary in the Upper Midwest, although Wisconsin is more similar to Minnesota than to Iowa, and the last two Marquette polls had Rubio running a little ahead of Cruz but Trump starting to widen his lead.

On the other hand, boding poorly for Cruz’s ability to go national, he has been a complete non-factor in the New England states, whereas Kasich – who has finished behind Ben Carson in 9 of the 12 states outside New England – has won just 5.3% of the vote outside those states and 3.3% in the Upper Midwest despite being the most Midwestern guy in the field.

The West is the hardest to figure, since we have two small, oddball caucuses to work with, one of which (Nevada) was dominated by the fact that Trump owns a huge Vegas casino and is one of the state’s most prominent employers.

The geographic case for Rubio is simply that he’s the only guy besides Trump who doesn’t have to write off any regions. The downside of that, so far, is that in a divided field he’s been stretched thin in ways that don’t help him accumulate delegates; in South Carolina, Texas and Alabama he got a combined 827,633 votes (22.3%, 17.7% and 18.6%) and got a grand total of 5 delegates to show for it, because South Carolina was winner-take-all and Texas and Alabama had 20% minimum thresholds for getting any statewide proportional delegates. Rubio got more actual votes in Georgia than Cruz, but lost the delegate race to him there, 18-14. He could face the same situation in Louisiana, if the early polling is suggestive (it may not be).

Demographics and Ideology

Let’s return to a point I made in the wake of South Carolina: Ted Cruz’s success in the early states has been really, really, really dependent on (1) Evangelical Christian voters and (2) self-described “Very Conservative” voters. And neither of these groups is likely to be anywhere as prevalent once we get past March 5.

Here’s a weighted average (by the size of each state’s vote) of what the exit polls show us about Cruz’s dependence on Evangelicals, highlighting in the third column the % of each state’s voters who were Evangelical in the exit poll samples (again, we have no exits for Minnesota or Alaska):

evangelical voters 3 1 16

That looks pretty lopsided – Cruz runs about even with Trump with about a third of Evangelical Christians, with Rubio drawing a little under 20% and Kasich a rounding error. Among non-Evangelicals, however, Rubio runs six points ahead of Cruz, who drops to a little over half of Trump’s vote, and Kasich draws the difference between Rubio and Trump.

But wait! You will notice that there was one very large group of non-Evangelicals Cruz did manage to do well with: Texans, who gave their hometown hero 31%. (I should note that even if he doesn’t win the nomination, Cruz’s powerful showing in the Texas primary should deter anyone from challenging him in 2018 on the theory that Texans might have soured on him). If you look at the 12 states outside Texas where we have exit polls, Cruz only cracks 20% of the vote in one of them (Alabama – which among the 9 states where the exit poll question has been asked so far, is the only one where more voters would prefer deporting illegal immigrants to ‘amnesty’).

evangelical voters 3 1 16 no texas

While Cruz supporters may object to separating out Texas, the simple fact is that the pattern is really consistent outside Texas, and Texas only votes once. In the rest of the states, he barely runs ahead of Kasich with non-Evangelical voters, and runs more than 10 points behind Rubio, while Rubio runs only 4 points behind Cruz with Evangelicals. Plus, he does even worse with non-Evangelicals in non-Southern states, even border-South states like Virginia. Cruz simply has not solved this problem, and given Trump’s strength outside of the Evangelical vote, it would seem rather risky to pick Cruz as the chief vessel for the anti-Trump vote headed into a whole bunch of states where his core voting bloc is a lot smaller part of the electorate (sort of like how Bernie Sanders ran into a completely predictable buzzsaw when he got out of states with an overwhelming number of white liberals):

Evangelical Calendar 2

If you’re wondering, those numbers probably do understate the Evangelical vote a bit – comparing the projections I drew on for my last post to actual results:

rising evangelical vote

That’s good news for Cruz, but it may not be enough – massive Evangelical turnout helped him pull away from Rubio in Tennessee, Alabama, and Arkansas, but still didn’t carry him to victory against Trump.

Then there’s the ideological splits, with Texas:

very conservative voters 3 1 16

…and without Texas:

very conservative voters 3 1 16 no tx

It’s the same pattern: Cruz did vastly better with “Somewhat Conservative” and Moderate voters in Texas than in the other 12 states, and when you back out Texas, you see that Ted Cruz voters are from Mars, John Kasich voters are from Venus…and Rubio occupies the sweet spot in the middle (a nicely habitable planet), beating Kasich with the moderates (where Cruz is in single digits), getting about half of Cruz’s vote with the Very Conservative voters (where Kasich is roadkill), and getting more of the largest group – the Somewhat Conservative voters – than Cruz and Kasich combined. And outside Cruz’s 57-23 margin in Texas, he only beats Trump by a point among the one group he has to depend on.

Cruz has unsurprisingly done best in states where Very Conservative voters are around 40% of the vote – his wins have come in Iowa (40%), Texas (39%), Oklahoma (43%) and Alaska (no poll). Among the upcoming states for which we have 2012 exit polls from contested primaries/caucuses (i.e., before Santorum dropped out and effectively ended the race), most of them will have more moderate electorates. Share of Very Conservative voters, 2012 exit polls:

Louisiana 49%
Mississippi 42%
Arizona 34%
Florida 33%
Ohio 32%
Wisconsin 32%
Michigan 30%
Maryland 30%
Illinois 29%

Again, these are mostly not good numbers for Cruz, even assuming a bit of an upward shift.

Completing the exit picture, let’s look at party self-ID, bearing in mind that this may vary from actual registration (even closed primaries like Oklahoma feature people who don’t call themselves Republicans:

r i 3 1 16

…and without Texas:

r i 2 3 1 16

You can see once again that Cruz’s candidate profile looks quite different in Texas than everywhere else. His showing with independents varies a lot because, well, Massachusetts independents are pretty moderate, whereas, say, Nevada independents trend libertarian. Closed primaries are likely to hurt Trump, as Neil Stevens showed in detail earlier today, but it’s far from clear that they help Cruz more than they help Rubio. What is clear is that they starve Kasich of oxygen; while he did well with Republicans in Vermont and passably in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, his ability to even appear on the map in places like Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia depends on independents. Which also suggests that Kasich’s inevitable departure from the race may not leave a whole lot of voters on the table in the 26 (out of 40) remaining contests with closed primaries or closed caucuses.


Many of us had hoped that Super Tuesday would winnow the field a good deal more, because Trump’s success thus far has depended on a divided opposition, and the longer he can sustain that (as Romney did in 2012), the more he builds the psychology of a winner. It now looks as if that will have to await Florida and Ohio on Armageddon Tuesday, unless something really surprises us before then. As Phil Klein has illustrated, the calendar slows a lot after that, giving the remaining contender(s) a lot more time to pound Trump, slow his march to 1,237 delegates, and possibly either get their themself or (much more likely) throw this to a contested convention where the party will have a final chance to come together and save itself from Trump and certain defeat.

Rubio will – as he has on several occasions – now have to prove himself again, starting Saturday (where Kansas may be his best bet, although we have little useful polling, and Rubio is further ahead of Cruz in the one poll we have for Kentucky) and running through Florida. But on the morning of March 16, we’ll be looking once again for an opportunity to end Trump’s ability to win with 34% of the vote. It won’t be easy to convince two of the three candidates to leave, and it may be especially challenging for Rubio to do because playing chicken, not making deals and frustrating the Republican Party are three of Ted Cruz’s favorite pastimes. Which is why Rubio will really need to put on a convincing showing that his ability to compete in more places and with more groups than Cruz is a vital asset.

The case for Rubio being the guy who can ‘unite the clans’ and beat Trump is fairly straightforward: Cruz has no record of competing for the Kasich voters (or the similar voters who make up a faction of Rubio’s base), and Kasich has no prayer of getting Cruz’s voters. Cruz abandons blue areas like New England and probably a lot of the Northeast; Kasich abandons most of the rest of the country other than Ohio. Rubio fights everywhere. Cruz’s argument is that a lot of his voters, but not Rubio’s, would go to Trump – but as with the Carson voters, voters who are released from the guy they were backing are apt to be persuadable, and Rubio has the best record of closing well with late deciders, and would benefit from staging a one-on-one race where (as has only just happened since Nevada) some serious fire is concentrated on Trump. And certainly Rubio can present a very vivid contrast to Trump.

The theme of Trump’s campaign has been his ability to avoid a one-on-one race. The theme of Rubio’s, as in his 2010 Senate race, has been all his opponents’ fear of the potential of finding themselves one-on-one with him.

It’s still the best way to beat Trump: rally around one guy who can play on the whole map, with the whole party.

A Vote For Trump is a Vote For Hillary Clinton: Why Trump Is A Sure Loser

RS: A Vote For Trump is a Vote For Hillary Clinton: Why Trump Is A Sure Loser

Do Not Choose To Lose

Sometimes, losing is a choice. And if the Republican Party nominates Hillary Clinton donor and Clinton Foundation donor Donald Trump to be its presidential candidate, the choice to lose to Hillary will already have been made, and the only question will be how to manage the scale and collateral consequences of the defeat. Nobody should go to the polls Tuesday under the delusional impression that a vote for Trump is anything other than a choice to ensure that Hillary Clinton is the 45th President of the United States.

Let us count the ways. For simplicity, I’ll just compare Trump vs. Hillary Clinton to Marco Rubio vs. Hillary Clinton to illustrate why Trump would fail in a great many situations where Rubio would succeed. But a similar analysis would show, if for slightly different reasons, why Rubio would run better against Bernie Sanders than Trump and why Ted Cruz or one of the two pretend GOP “candidates” would run better than Trump against either.

This analysis will look at three factors. First, I’ll walk through the numbers, the polling we have so far. Second, I’ll offer some analysis of why we should not discount what the polling is telling us. And third, I’ll look at the structural differences between a primary and general election that will make it prohibitively difficult for Trump to translate a primary win into a plausible general election campaign.

Head-to-Head National Polls

Head-to-head general election polling during primary season is not the most reliable of indicators, but since we obviously can’t get post-primary polls until the primaries are over, it’s all we have in terms of polling evidence, so it’s as good a place as any to start. Here’s where the national general election polling averages stood as of this weekend:

You will notice not only that Trump trails Hillary by almost 3 points while Rubio leads her by almost 5, but also that Rubio has been steadily gaining ground on Hillary – he leads 12 of the last 14 polls (Hillary leads by 1 in the other two) and 15 of the last 20. Trump, by contrast, is flat-out lying when he claims to lead Hillary in every poll – out of 45 polls in RCP’s database, Trump leads Hillary in only 5, is tied in 2 others, and trails in 38 of them. Of 18 polls taken since late November, 9 show Hillary at 48 or higher; only two show Trump at 47% and one at 46. The only real variation is that some polls show more undecideds than others.

HuffPost Pollster collects a slightly different but substantially overlapping sample of polls – we can debate which is a better resource, as the HuffPost people let in a wider range of fringe-y partisan and online polls, but you should not just automatically disregard their data just because HuffPo is a left-wing website; it’s the same general world of polling. Anyway, it reaches similar conclusions to RCP throughout this article, only with different numbers. HuffPost sees Trump as decisively behind Hillary right now:

Whereas HuffPo estimates Rubio would start the general election slightly ahead of Hillary, and it is worth noting that HuffPo has Rubio ahead of Hillary in 6 of the last 7 polls, but Hillary up 10 points with 20% undecided in the one Morning Consult poll going the other way:

Favorability Polls

Besides head-to-head matchups, an early polling indicator to watch is favorable vs unfavorable ratings with voters, or “fav/unfav”. The more unpopular a candidate is, the harder it is to come back with undecided voters.

RCP has Trump’s fav/unfav at 34.4 favorable, 57.8 unfavorable (-23.4), so far underwater that it would be nearly impossible to win. How bad are Trump’s numbers? Barack Obama at this point in 2008 was at 69.0 fav/23.0 unfav (+46). Mitt Romney was actually in positive territory when he lost in 2012 (49.4 fav/44.6 unfav, +4.8), and never saw his unfavorables go above 51% in any poll the entire 2012 cycle; Romney grew from +7.6 in late January to +11 by the end of the primaries before the general election onslaught ground him down. John McCain was at 52.3 fav/41.5 unfav (+10.8) on Election Day 2008, and was around +20 at this juncture. Trump would undoubtedly see his favorables driven down during the general election campaign, just as Romney’s and McCain’s were, but he’s starting in a hole far deeper than the worst day of either of their campaigns. By this measure, Trump makes McCain and Romney look like Ronald Reagan on steroids.

In fact, Trump’s backsliding has been going on a while already. Trump’s favorables were getting better for a few months after he got in the race, as a faction of Republicans warmed to him, but they have been deteriorating in polls taken in December and January (RCP doesn’t have more recent ones than that). HuffPost likewise has Trump 20 points underwater, and steadily so for months:

Gallup, in a January poll, found that Trump – if nominated – would have the most unfavorable rating of any nominee from either party in the quarter century since it started polling the question, unfavorables on par with George W. Bush at the lowest point of his presidency. 60% viewed Trump unfavorably in Gallup’s poll, worse than George H.W. Bush a month before he got 38% of the popular vote in 1992. If you are keeping score at home, 60% of the people disliking you makes it hard to get 50% of them to vote for you.

Rubio, in RCP, has seen much more volatile favorables with the general electorate, and is presently at 35.2 fav, 38.0 unfav (-2.8), a little underwater but with a whole lot of people not sure yet. HuffPost likewise shows a lot of Americans still not settled in the kind of negative views they already have of Trump:

On the whole, everybody’s favorables (except Bernie Sanders) are lower now than everyone’s in 2008, but Rubio still looks a lot healthier than Trump. And there are a lot of subsets of voters at the margins where this gives Rubio room to win votes in the general election that are already closed off to Trump – as I noted a few days ago, Rubio actually has positive favorables with Hispanics nationally, while Trump is hated and seen as offensive by over 70% of themCollege-educated voters would likewise be closed off to Trump; a mid-February Quinnipiac poll had Rubio at 46-40 (+6) with college-educated voters nationwide, Trump at 29-66 (-37), and trailing Hillary 52-37 with college-educated voters, who even in the GOP primaries so far have been a majority of the electorate.

Nate Silver did a deeper dive on this in mid-January, noting that Gallup found Trump at +27 with Republicans (compared to Rubio at +46), -27 with independents (compared to +4 for Rubio) and -70 (!!!) with Democrats, compared to -27 for Rubio. Silver, using the HuffPost Pollster database of polls, generated an average over the whole November-mid-January period and found Trump the most unpopular GOP candidate with the general electorate:

In fact, the most recent Gallup poll released February 29, 2016 shows Trump’s net favorables with Republicans down to +15, half what it was a month ago and his lowest since Gallup started tracking in early August. The grind of the primary campaign had also dropped Ted Cruz’s favorables – but not Rubio’s, which stood at +34, a bit lower than his campaign-long average but the same as it was when the year began.

Meanwhile, RCP has Hillary plenty unpopular, at 42.2 fav, 51.4 unfav (-9.2), and she has deteriorated badly from being almost even in the spring and summer. Huffpost illustrates the crash:

Compared to Rubio, that’s the picture of an extraordinarily vulnerable candidate, even before you consider the historic trends working against the Democrats. But replace Rubio with a candidate whose negatives are as deeply underwater as Trump, and suddenly Hillary looks pretty safe.

Head-to-Head State-By-State Polls

Ideally, since Presidential elections are conducted at the state rather than national level, we could supplement our national polling with robust state-by-state poll averages. That’s what we’ll have to work with as the general election warms up, but for now, only a handful of states have been polled for general election matchups, and most of those only once or twice, in some cases not since November or earlier (Missouri was last polled in August) and in one case (Pennsylvania) the most recent Rubio vs. Clinton matchup is from February, while the most recent Trump vs. Clinton matchup is from October. So take all these with a grain of salt.

That said, the evidence we have from the state-level polling is consistent with the national polling: Rubio runs well ahead of Trump, winning states Trump loses, keeping close in states where Trump gets blown out. Of the 13 ‘battleground’ states where we have polling for both candidates, Rubio runs better than Trump in 11 of them, eight of those by 5 points or better, three by double digits (including New Hampshire, where Trump beat Rubio by 24 in the primary – a reminder that primary pluralities and general election majorities are two radically different things). Oddly enough, one of the two states where Trump polls better than Rubio is Rubio’s home state of Florida, but then only by a single point; Georgia is the only state where Trump would run significantly better, although both would start at 48% of the vote. Trump would enter multiple battleground states polling below 40%, consistent with his massive unfavorables.

(Yes, I realize it’s exceptionally unlikely that the Q Colorado poll is correct that Hillary would lose Colorado by double digits to either Rubio or Trump. The point here is how they stack up in an apples-to-apples comparison in the same polling environment).

Trump claims he would put his home state of New York in play. We have one poll of New York, a Siena College poll from early February that shows Hillary up 57-32 on Trump, with Trump’s fav/unfav at 25/71 unfav (-46). Rubio would likewise lose New York to Hillary, at 54-37, and his unfavorables are 34/45 (-11), but Rubio isn’t the one running around claiming he would be competitive in a home state where 71% of the voters disapprove of him. You can safely repeat that for most any other blue state you like.

#NeverTrump Polls

A key problem Trump faces is the threat that a lot of Republicans (myself included) simply won’t vote for him in November. This, too, is a hard thing to measure at this juncture – when emotions are running high in a primary, it’s not that unusual to see people swearing they won’t vote for the nominee, then coming home in the fall. On the other hand, as Silver reminds us, the high levels of party loyalty we have seen in the last four elections are something of a historical anomaly – it was a frequent occurrence from 1952 to 1996 to see nominees of both parties who lost 20% or more of their own party’s voters in November, either through aisle-crossing or to third party candidates (Ross Perot, George Wallace, John Anderson). Of course, a major reason for that is an ideologically polarized electorate, which Trump would alter given his long record as a big-government social liberal. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First the numbers – since we don’t have poll averages, we have to go poll by poll.

Bloomberg Super Tuesday Poll: A Feb. 22-24 online poll of GOP primary voters in the Southern Super Tuesday states (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia) only two of which (Virginia and Georgia) are typically competitive in a normal general election these days. Trump has a 60/37 (+23) fav/unfav in this poll, compared to 65/28 (+37) for Rubio, an overall 37-20-20 lead on Rubio and Cruz, and a 48-44 lead in a hypothetical two-way matchup with Rubio. But in a vaguely worded question, 20% say they would “never” vote for Trump, and another 14% aren’t sure (only 10% would never vote Rubio, although 20 are unsure, numbers much more in line with soft disapproval from voters who would mostly come home in November). When given a choice between Trump and Hillary, 27% would not vote for Trump (9 for Hillary, 14 for a third party, 4 would stay home) and another 6% were not sure. That means only two-thirds of GOP likely primary voters in a set of mostly deep-red states would prefer Trump to Hillary. That’s an enormous red flag.

Democracy Corps poll: A poll by a Democratic firm hunting for opportunities, so these are results after some push-polling to see what Democratic messages worked with a “likely voter survey of 800 Republican base voters was conducted online using a voter file sample. The results were weighted to match Democracy Corps’ national likely voter data set for self-identifying Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who will vote in the Republican primaries or caucuses.” The poll shows that 20% of the Republican base could be induced to desert Trump in the general election, and indeed that self-identified moderates (even though they’re the group containing the most Trump supporters) would give just 60% of their votes to Trump against Hillary compared to 83% for Rubio:

The survey found that Evangelicals were not likely to desert Trump, but Tea Partiers, Moderates and Observant Catholics (the other three segments in the poll) were, depending on the anti-Trump messages tested – “[t]he strongest attacks on Trump charge that he is an ego-maniac who cares more about himself than the country, that he is very disrespectful towards women, and that he is a threat to national security and should not have control of our nuclear weapons.”

CNN/ORC national GOP primary voter poll: Conducted Feb. 24-27 – of 1,001 adults including 920 registered voters interviewed, the poll found 306 Republicans and 121 independents who lean Republican, and it was absurdly favorable to Trump, showing him with 49% of the vote and nobody else over 20. And yet, even in a spectacularly good poll for Trump, 48% of those not supporting him in the primary said they were likely to do so in the general election, including 35% certain they would not; only 25% of his non-supporters were sure they’d vote Trump in November. Rubio, by contrast, would find only 29% of his primary non-voters likely bailing on him in November, only 12% sure to do so. While the “won’t vote for them” contingents in this poll are pretty similar when you adjust for the baked-in support of their backers, this is a pretty alarming sign if you think Trump’s actual support is a lot less than 49%.

Fox News national poll, Feb. 15-18: 40% across both parties said the candidate they would most dread watching the next four years was Trump, 31% Hillary, 2% Rubio. Trump gets 79% of Republicans and 39% of independents, and 9% of Democrats against Hillary; Rubio gets 88% of Republicans, 48% of independents, and 12% of Democrats. 26% of Republicans and 57% of independents would be “not at all satisfied” if Trump won the presidency; we don’t have results for Rubio, but they asked the same question about Jeb! Bush and he did better than Trump, 22% of Republicans and 49% of independents. 67% of all voters in the poll said Trump lacked the temperament to be President, compared to 55% who said Hillary lacked the integrity for the job and 46% who said Rubio lacked the toughness.

Elon Poll of North Carolina: Feb. 15-19. Trump gets 80% of Republican votes and 48% of independents in head-to-head matchups with Hillary; Rubio gets 92% of Republicans and 55% of independents. Among voters of all parties, 38.7% said Trump was the worst candidate in either party running; 28.8% said Hillary; 1.3% said Rubio.

That’s only a sampling of polls, none of them all that conclusive, but every piece of data we have keeps pointing in the same direction.

Could The Polls Be Wrong?

So those are the numbers, such as we have. Now for the reasons why they may be right or wrong.

As I noted, polls this early do have some drawbacks, such as the fact that the candidates are engaged in divisive primary battles within their own parties (following which there’s sometimes a bit of a coming-together effect) and, on the other hand, that the candidates have not started to take fire from the other side. Trump fans, Trump apologists and Trump defeatists point to the fact that Trump was able to pull off an unprecedented reversal of his stratospheric prior unfavorables among Republicans after he joined the race. But of course, he did that in large part by (1) joining the party and (2) demonizing a bunch of targets disliked by many Republicans. Trump didn’t become more likable, he was viewed more favorably by rallying people on one side to tribalist dislike of people on the other. But that’s a trick you can’t pull in the general election; the very nature of “us against them” tribalism is that there has to be a “them,” and they vote too.

Will Trump’s unfavorables improve? Some will rally to the nominee, but that’s also true of Rubio and true of Hillary. It’s probably most true of Hillary, as some of her unfavorability right now is Bernie Sanders voters who think she’s not liberal enough, but have voted for plenty of non-socialists in the past and will come around when the alternative is a Republican. The same would largely happen for Rubio – some hardliners on immigration won’t be reconciled, but his overall profile is pretty conventional in terms of a Republican drawing contrasts to the Democrat (in fact, by most any measure he’d be the most conservative nominee since Reagan), and outside of immigration, it’s hard to see any issue where Rubio would lose a lot of people who vote for Republicans on a regular basis. It’s debatable how big the unreconcilables are on immigration (they hated McCain, but he only got 1.5% less of the vote than immigration-hardliner Romney despite running in much more unfavorable year; on the other hand, the issue is obviously more polarizing right now). But as I’ll discuss more below, Trump has far deeper problems that go beyond people liking some other candidate better.

And remember: Hillary’s negatives are very well known, although she has not really faced a sustained negative ad barrage of late. So, her opponent can put a bit of hurt on her, but Hillary’s standing with the voters is mostly baked into the cake already. Her chief problem is re-creating the supercharged turnout of non-white voters that propelled Obama to victory in 2012, while maintaining Obama’s extraordinary levels of support among those voters. Against Rubio, that kind of enthusiasm will be hard to come by, and at least some marginal deterioration of the Democrats’ advantage with Hispanic voters and young voters would be expected against a young, Hispanic nominee. Against Trump, however, his identification with white supremacists, hatred of Mexicans and Muslims, and all sorts of other racially polarized stances – plus the fact that he’s even older than Hillary – make him the absolute perfect candidate to drive up Democratic turnout while depressing Republican turnout.

And bear in mind: Rubio has been softened up so far by tens of millions of dollars of negative ad spending from Right to Rise. The attacks are not the same ones that would be used by the Democrats, but they mean that his polling right now already includes a substantial amount of the hits over things like his Senate attendance record and finances. Yet Rubio is also unknown enough with enough people that he could still win over more converts (he has repeatedly proven himself a strong closer in the primaries, winning late deciders). Trump, by contrast, while he’s a very known quantity who would have difficulty fixing his existing negatives, has been almost totally untouched by negative ads until the past week, so his standing in the general election polls right now – abysmal as it is – is likely to be closer to his ceiling than his real floor.

Trump has also had the advantage of running against an all-male field that is less directly able to exploit his notoriously disrespectful and boorish treatment of women. Hillary Clinton, who is running mainly on her gender and whose greatest asset is the sympathy she engenders for putting up with Bill’s infidelities, couldn’t ask for a more perfect foil than a thrice-married serial adulterer.

And that is before we get into Trump’s notoriously brittle temperament; we’ve seen him rattle badly at setbacks (losing Iowa) and provocations large (Rubio and Cruz going hard and personal at him in debates) and small (Megyn Kelly asking him questions). The one thing that keeps him out of full meltdown is his ability to recite his strong standing in the polls and his wins in primaries. But in a general election where he starts out behind, he will have that thrown constantly in his face instead.

It is not at all difficult to see Trump as the kind of candidate that nobody would admit having supported in the primaries by Labor Day. Barring some totally unforeseen scandal – a built-in risk with every candidate – it is all but impossible to see that happen to Rubio.

Could Trump Rally The #NeverTrump Faction?

Moving to the specific problem of Trump’s issues with the GOP base, we can clearly see that he would face challenges vastly different from those that Rubio would face. How would he appeal to the lifelong party faithful who are desparing for the party and ready to search for the exits if he’s the nominee? It’s no answer just to say that people will suck it up and vote even if we nominated the proverbial ham sandwich, as we have plenty of experience losing elections when not enough people turned out to vote for the ham sandwich.

To start with, a significant part of the #NeverTrump vote – not just the online commentators but the ordinary rank-and-file Republicans – consists of people who just think the man is dangerously unfit to be President, and there is only so much a man with near-100% name recognition and off-the-charts media saturation can do to solve that.

Partisans will forgive a lot if they see major issues at stake. But Trump has nothing at all to offer Republicans on the issues. “But the Supreme Court!” is traditionally the strongest difference between the parties, and with Justice Scalia’s death it’s a vital issue, but Trump has not given Court-minded conservatives even the slightest reason to believe he would appoint better or different judges than Hillary. He certainly has a long record of calling himself pro-choice well into his sixties (even to the point of publicly endorsing partial-birth abortion in 1999), of touting his pro-abortion federal judge sister, of welcoming pro-abortion Scott Brown as a possible VP candidate, and of defending federal funding for Planned Parenthood repeatedly during these primaries. He supported the assault weapons ban and same-sex marriage.

His record on size-of-government issues is even worse than on social issues; Trump has talked repeatedly about favoring something like single-payer healthcare and the Obamacare mandate, he has an authoritarian streak a mile wide, he’s practically the living embodiment of crony capitalism, he loves bailouts and eminent domain, he has campaigned for big-governmnent protectionism and against entitlement reform, and he’s previously proposed colossal tax hikes. The man doesn’t have a limited-government bone in his body.

What this means is, Trump in the general election will have to spend a vast amount of his time and effort just trying to get Republican voter turnout up to McCain/Romney levels, or maybe even Bob Dole levels. He will have to rely on surrogates yelling at people to show party loyalty solely for the sake of party loyalty, on behalf of a guy who was bankrolling the Democrats well into the Obama Administration. And yes, he will depend on the pure tribalism of the GOP base disliking Hillary – but the GOP base hated Obama with the fire of a thousand suns, and that still got us 46-47% in the last two elections. Hatred of the Clintons got Dole even less than that. And if the election comes down to a referendum on who is hated more, that’s a battle Donald Trump can’t win with anyone, even Hillary.

Structural Factors

I’ve discussed here the hard numbers and soft factors that go into evaluating Trump as a general election candidate. But it’s also worth remembering that he’s a completely untraditional candidate who would face structural obstacles unique to Trump.

First, even among elected officials who won’t go full #NeverTrump (as Ben Sasse has), a lot of the party is already planning to run away from him, either quietly or openly. The press and the Democrats can make a lot of hay out of the occasional defector (think of how hard John Kerry leaned on Eric Shinseki), but here you could have dozens of Republican Senate, House and Governor candidates running ads distancing themselves from Trump. And who will speak on his behalf as a surrogate? Chris Christie, within days of endorsing Trump, is already bailing out on media appearances for Trump, refusing to defend his stances on issues, and refusing to answer questions about him in press conferences. Sarah Palin was quickly dispatched after an incoherent attempt to talk up The Donald. His chief press spokesperson, Katrina Pierson, is a barely literate conspiracy theorist. And of course, large parts of the conservative message apparatus is firmly set against Trump and could be backing a third party or openly rooting for him to lose. Trump’s entire message right now is that his victory is inevitable, but in a general election he would actually need to persuade people, and he’d have to do it all by himself.

Second, where will Trump get money? General election campaigns are notoriously expensive billion-dollar affairs. But Trump is too cheap to self-finance more than a fraction of his campaign, and he has scarcely raised any money for his primary campaign and can’t have much of a mailing list built. Two of the groups he has alienated the most are the GOP’s large donor class, who find him and his agenda horrible, and its small grassroots donor base, which consists of the sort of people most likely to be found in the #NeverTrump faction because they actually believe in things. His best supporters are economically downscale people who think Trump is self-financing and aren’t going to shell out their meager disposable income to help out a billionaire. Even people who might hold their noses and vote Trump against Hillary in the privacy of the voting booth would blanch at writing him checks. Trump’s only real fundraising asset would be his reputation for vindictiveness, but against the Clintons, he’d be facing masters of that art, and big-dollar donors are nothing if not able to read the polls.

Trump has managed the feat of overcoming all this in the primary by means of getting vastly more free media coverage than his divided and lesser-known opponents. But that trick can’t be repeated in a general election where there are only two major-party candidates and the other one has been just as famous for almost as long as Trump.

Third, who will organize and get out the vote for Trump? After his GOTV failure in Iowa, he has had more success at getting his voters to show up, but the number of people you have to turn out for a general election is vastly, vastly larger. Trump shuns traditional political tools (like conducting internal polling), and even if he adds those, a candidate needs a lot of help. Where will it come from? Establishment organs like the RNC and NRA will probably help, although it seems unlikely that a Trump nomination would be followed by anything other than a financial crisis in RNC fundraising. Downstream, though, GOTV relies on grassroots activists pounding the pavement as well as outside groups ranging from the Koch brothers’ network to issue groups like pro-lifers, all of whom will be ranging from dispirited to open revolt at Trump. The Koch network is not an asset to write off lightly:

If Trump becomes the nominee and he faces self-declared socialist Bernie Sanders in November, the senior Koch official explains, members of the donor network are likely to hold their noses and back Trump’s candidacy. But there’s another scenario that could prove far more controversial and possibly damaging for the network: a Trump-versus-Clinton matchup. There is absolutely no love between the Clintons and the Kochs, whose company experienced one of the most traumatic periods in its history as it fought off regulators during Bill Clinton’s presidency. But, so strong is the dislike for Trump within the Koch network, that a Clinton-Trump race is a tough call. “I could see the network not participating in the presidential election at all,” says the senior Koch official.

Of course, Trump would probably benefit from increased white working class turnout. But that alone is not enough to overcome the 1-2 punch of the Democrats’ huge advantages with non-white and young voters and the likely deterioration of the rest of the GOP base vote. Indeed, Sean Trende’s original “missing white voters” analysis assumed that adding these voters would not by itself be enough to reverse the outcome in 2012, let alone make good substantial losses among Republicans and independents who voted for Romney.

Rubio would not face a single one of these hurdles: aside from the most hard-shell anti-immigration zealots, he’d have the full and complete backing of basically the entire party apparatus, the large and small donor networks, the activists…with so much at stake in this election, a candidate who is simply “generic Republican” would have vastly more to work with than Trump, and that’s even before you consider Rubio’s strengths as an individual candidate. True, Rubio or another more conventional Republican (even Cruz) would face some losses among Trump’s base, who would resent Trump’s defeat. But while Trump’s problems involve pervasive distrust on the issues combined with major personality and temperament issues personal to Trump, Rubio would have time to woo back some of these voters with general election policy initiatives, plus adding on the current Trump voters who are just attracted to him because he seems like a winner.

Choosing Defeat

Could Trump beat Hillary in November? It’s possible – she could have a stroke, or be indicted, or a terrorist attack could level Los Angeles, or we could face a sudden financial crisis, or some other totally unpredictable event that would hand the election to any Republican. And of course, it is always possible that the world has changed so much that 70 million people will vote for Trump for no particular reason at all – that all the polling will be wrong, that demographics won’t matter, and organization won’t matter, and media coverage won’t matter. You never know!

But even in light of everything that has brought us to this pass, there is no rational reason whatsoever to think Donald Trump will be able to beat Hillary Clinton, and every reason to think nominating him would throw away an election Republicans otherwise would have a very strong chance to win.

Don’t do it. Don’t surrender. A vote for Trump is a vote to lose to Hillary. A vote for Rubio (or for Cruz) is a vote to defeat her. After 8 years of battles to get ourselves to the point where we might actually be able to beat the Democrats and do something with the victory, let’s not just choose to roll over lose on purpose.

Donald Trump is a Glass-Jawed Coward Afraid to Debate Rubio or Cruz Again

RS: Donald Trump is a Glass-Jawed Coward Afraid to Debate Rubio or Cruz Again

Donald Trump did not like getting humiliated by Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz in the last debate in Houston, and you know how we know that he knows he got humiliated? Because he’s doing what glass-jawed bullies always do when you hit them back – whining like a baby and threatening to run away like a coward:

Trump on Friday night hinted he had thought about skipping another GOP debate, as he lamented the events as “a terrible waste of time.”

“Aren’t these debates ridiculous, though?” Trump asked supporters at a rally in Oklahoma City, according to Business Insider.

“How about if I don’t do the next debate? Yes?” he added, before quickly deciding: “Ah, no, I’ll do it.”

The billionaire businessman said debates are repetitive and predictable.

“How many times can you say the same thing over and over? I can give you the answers of the governor, the two senators,” he said. “I can give you every single answer. I can also say Ben [Carson] will complain about not being asked a question. And he’s right! It’s not fair.”

Trump ran away once before, at the Iowa debate, because he was scared of Megyn Kelly – or perhaps just put out that a smart, attractive woman was neither intimidated nor wowed by him. Now, he gets his head handed to him by two sons-of-Hispanic-immigrant Senators who had the effrontery to not inherit $200 million, and he whimpers about “unfair” and talks about running away again.

Remind me why anyone even pretends to think this guy could stand up to Hillary Clinton? Marco Rubio didn’t give up when he had one bad debate. Reagan in ’84 and George W. Bush in 2004 didn’t give up when they had one bad debate. Even Barack Obama in 2012 didn’t give up when he had one bad debate. But Trump is made of more delicate stuff. He couldn’t even say no to Hillary when she asked him for donations, because he was too frightened to take the Koch brothers’ path of standing up to public vilification for putting their money where their principles are. Trump may have a few right-wing instincts to go with his lifelong social liberalism and love of big government, but he has the backbone of a jellyfish.

America Won Tonight’s Debate

RS: America Won Tonight’s Debate

Tonight America finally got to see the most talented conservative debaters in the business – Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz – team up to attack Donald Trump as an ill-informed, empty-talking-points-dependent blowhard and lifelong liberal Democrat who doesn’t take a punch well. Cruz was pretty close to his A game, which is very good indeed, getting better as the night went on; Rubio was spitting straight fire from the starting gun, mocking Trump with ease and contempt and a smile on his face. If anyone who watched this debate still votes for Trump, we really have no excuse for becoming France, and we should turn in Old Glory right now and seek a retirement home for former great powers that no longer care about freedom and the Constitution.

Rubio, other than a few minutes with Chris Christie (a man who never once had the stones to turn his formidable guns against Trump) has had a marvelous string of debate moments, but tonight was a Rubio we have not seen before, and he took it to another level, making complete fools of people who claimed as late as this afternoon that Rubio would not attack Trump tonight. Instead, he seems to have decided to lull Trump into a false sense of security by holding his fire until he could see the whites of Trump’s eyes. Rubio went hard after the contrast between his own humble origins and Trump’s rich-kid silver-spoon upbringing (and what a mockery it makes of Trump’s claim to be the working-class hero), sneering that if Trump hadn’t inherited so much money he’d be selling watches on the street in Manhattan. Trump was reduced to sputtering that he only got a one million dollar loan from his daddy:

RUBIO: Here’s a guy that inherited $200 million. If he hadn’t inherited $200 million, you know where Donald Trump would be right now?

TRUMP: No, no, no.

RUBIO: Selling watches in (inaudible)


TRUMP: (Inaudible) I took…

RUBIO: That’s where he would be.

TRUMP: That is so wrong. We’ll work on that. I took $1 million and I turned into $10 billion.

RUBIO: Oh, OK. One million.

TRUMP: I borrowed $1 million…

Rubio laughed at Trump, and not for the last time, and Trump spent a whole lot of the debate with a sour look on his face and his chin raised in the air, the unmistakable look of a man who is not enjoying being mocked by his social inferiors. Rubio bored in on this contrast in talking about immigration and how Trump’s record is nothing like his rhetoric:

And so even today, we saw a report in one of the newspapers that Donald, you’ve hired a significant number of people from other countries to take jobs that Americans could have filled.

My mom and dad — my mom was a maid at a hotel, and instead of hiring an American like her, you have brought in over a thousand people from all over the world to fill those jobs instead.

A second thing that both Rubio and Cruz did in different ways to counteract Trump’s incessent lies and habit of yelling over people who get too close to exposing them was to dare the voters to go Google what they were talking about. Rubio did this twice with Trump’s hiring of illegal Polish immigrants, and Cruz did it with Trump’s general election poll standing against Hillary, specifically referencing’s poll averages.

A third important thing was that Rubio laid off Cruz almost entirely, except to defend himself. And Cruz launched far fewer attacks than before against Rubio, although almost all his weakest hits against Trump were when he tried to shoehorn 2-for-1 attacks on Rubio into his answers. Cruz demolished Trump on electability, which if you’d asked at any point in this campaign would have been the last thing you’d expect Ted Cruz to be talking about at a debate on the eve of Super Tuesday:

You know, it’s interesting — Donald went — went on — on an extended tirade about the polls, but he didn’t respond to any of the substance. He has yet to say — he can release past year’s tax returns. He can do it tomorrow.

He doesn’t want to do it, because presumably there’s something in there…

TRUMP: Nothing.

CRUZ: … that is bad. If there’s nothing, release them tomorrow.


CRUZ: They’re already prepared. The only reason he’s not releasing them…

TRUMP: You — you don’t…

CRUZ: … is because he’s afraid that he will get hit.

TRUMP: I’m not afraid (inaudible).

CRUZ: You know, Marco made reference earlier to the litigation against Trump University. It’s a fraud case. His lawyers have scheduled the trial for July.

I want you to think about, if this man is the nominee, having the Republican nominee…


… on the stand in court, being cross-examined about whether he committed fraud. You don’t think the mainstream media will go crazy on that?

And on substance, how do we nominate a candidate who has said Hillary Clinton was the best secretary of state of modern times, who agreed with her on foreign policy, who agrees with Bernie Sanders on health care, who agreed with Barack Obama on the Wall Street bailout?

BLITZER: All right (ph)…

CRUZ: If — we’ve got to win this election, and we can’t do it with a candidate who agrees with Hillary Clinton and can’t take it to her and beat her on the debate stage and at the polls.

BLITZER: Mr. Trump. Mr, — hold on. Mr. Trump — Mr. Trump…

TRUMP: … first of all, he’s talking about the polls. I’m beating him awfully badly in the polls.


CRUZ: But you’re not beating Hillary. You’re not beating Hillary.

TRUMP: Well, then, if I can’t — if — hey, if I can’t beat her, you’re really going to get killed, aren’t you?

[TRUMP, attributed on the rush transcript to CRUZ]: So — so let me ask you this, because you’re really getting beaten badly. I know you’re embarrassed — I know you’re embarrassed, but keep fighting — keep swinging, man (ph). Swing for the fences.

Let me just tell you — let me just tell you, the Trump University case is a civil case. Not a — it’s a civil case. It’s a case where people want to try and get — it’s a case that is nonsense.

It’s something I could have settled many times. I could settle it right now for very little money, but I don’t want to do it out of principle. The people that took the course all signed — most — many — many signed report cards saying it was fantastic, it was wonderful, it was beautiful.

As — and believe me, I’ll win that case. That’s an easy case. Civil case. Number two, as far as the taxes are concerned, I’m being audited. It’s a very routine audit, and it’s very unfair, because I’ve been audited for, I think, over 12 years.

Every year, because of the size of my company, which is very, very large, I’m being audited — which is a very large company.


BLITZER: Thank you.

TRUMP: I’m being audited 12 years in a row, at least.

Now, until that audit’s done, and I don’t think anybody would blame me, I’m not giving it…


CRUZ: … the years you’re not being audited? Will you release those years?

BLITZER: Gentlemen, gentlemen, thank you.

TRUMP: (inaudible) audited for those years.

CRUZ: Which years? Which years are you being audited?

Probably the single best moment of the debate was when Rubio basically ripped out Trump’s intestines, wrapped them around his neck and set them on fire over healthcare after a typical Trump answer that blamed Cruz and Rubio for writing Obamacare (editor’s note – lol) and making it too friendly to the insurers (one of several times Rubio openly mocked Trump for not knowing what he was talking about):

RUBIO: You may not be aware of this, Donald, because you don’t follow this stuff very closely, but here’s what happened. When they passed Obamacare they put a bailout fund in Obamacare. All these lobbyists you keep talking about, they put a bailout fund in the law that would allow public money to be used, taxpayer money, to bail out companies when they lost money.

And, we led the effort and wiped out that bailout fund. The insurance companies are not in favor of me, they hate that. They’re suing that now to get that bailout money put back in.

Here’s what you didn’t hear in that answer, and this is important guys, this is an important thing. What is your plan? I understand the lines around the state, whatever that means. This is not a game where you draw maps…

TRUMP: … And, you don’t know what it means…

RUBIO: … What is your plan, Mr. Trump?


RUBIO: What is your plan on healthcare?

TRUMP: You don’t know.

BASH: (inaudible)

TRUMP: … The biggest problem…


RUBIO: … What’s your plan…

TRUMP: … The biggest problem, I’ll have you know…

RUBIO: … What’s your plan…

TRUMP: … You know, I watched him meltdown two weeks ago with Chris Christie. I got to tell you, the biggest problem he’s got is he really doesn’t know about the lines. The biggest thing we’ve got, and the reason we’ve got no competition, is because we have lines around the state, and you have essentially….

RUBIO: … We already mentioned that (inaudible) plan, I know what that is, but what else is part of your plan…

TRUMP: … You don’t know much…

RUBIO: … So, you’re only thing is to get rid of the lines around the states. What else is part of your healthcare plan…

TRUMP: … The lines around the states…

RUBIO: … That’s your only plan…

TRUMP: … and, it was almost done — not now…

RUBIO: … Alright, (inaudible)…

TRUMP: … Excuse me. Excuse me.

RUBIO: … His plan. That was the plan…

TRUMP: … You get rid of the lines, it brings in competition. So, instead of having one insurance company taking care of New York, or Texas, you’ll have many. They’ll compete, and it’ll be a beautiful thing.

RUBIO: Alright…


RUBIO: So, that’s the only part of the plan? Just the lines?

BASH: (inaudible)

TRUMP: The nice part of the plan — you’ll have many different plans. You’ll have competition, you’ll have so many different plans.

RUBIO: Now he’s repeating himself.

TRUMP: No, no, no.


TRUMP: (inaudible)

RUBIO: (inaudible)


TRUMP: (inaudible) I watched him repeat himself five times four weeks ago…

RUBIO: … I just watched you repeat yourself five times five seconds ago…


TRUMP: I watched him meltdown on the stage like that, I’ve never seen it in anybody…

BASH: … Let’s stay focused on the subject…

TRUMP: … I thought he came out of the swimming pool…

RUBIO: … I see him repeat himself every night, he says five things, everyone’s dumb, he’s gonna make America great again…

BASH: … Senator Rubio…

RUBIO: … We’re going to win, win win, he’s winning in the polls…

BASH: … Senator Rubio, please.

RUBIO: … And the lines around the state.


RUBIO: … Every night.

BASH: Senator Rubio.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I tell the truth, I tell the truth.

BASH: Senator Rubio, you will have time to respond if you would just let Mr. Trump respond to what you’ve just posed to him…

RUBIO: … Yeah, he’s going to give us his plan now, right? OK…

BASH: … If you could talk a little bit more about your plan. I know you talked about…

TRUMP: … We’re going to have many different plans because…

BASH: … Can you be a little specific…

TRUMP: … competition…

RUBIO: … He’s done it again.


TRUMP: There is going to be competition among all of the states, and the insurance companies. They’re going to have many, many different plans. BASH: Is there anything else you would like to add to that…

TRUMP: No, there’s nothing to add.


TRUMP: What is to add?

It got even better than this later when Cruz and Rubio went at Trump simultaneously, despite Wolf Blitzer’s desperate efforts to rescue Trump and throw some questions to the two pointless “candidates” at the edges of the stage – Rubio at one point interjected with perfect comedic timing in an exchange where Cruz had Trump spluttering about his support for socialized medicine:

RUBIO: Well, can I just clarify something?

BLITZER: Gentleman, please.

RUBIO: Wolf, no. I want to clarify something.

BLITZER: Gentlemen please. I want to move on.

RUBIO: This is a Republican debate, right? Because that attack about letting people die in the streets…

Both Rubio and Cruz battered Trump on his “negotiation” mantra, Cruz whacking him for being an unprincipled dealmaker who financed John Kerry and Jimmy Carter, Rubio for thinking he could do business with the Palestinians like he was negotiating a lease:

BLITZER: We’re going to get to North Korea in a moment. But Senator Rubio, what’s wrong with the U.S. being an honest broker in a negotiation, as Mr. Trump is proposing?

RUBIO: Because — and I don’t know if Donald realizes this. I’m sure it’s not his intent perhaps. But the position you’ve taken is an anti-Israel position. And here’s why. Because you cannot be an honest broker in a dispute between two sides in which one of the sides is constantly acting in bad faith. The Palestinian Authority has walked away from multiple efforts to make peace, very generous offers from the Israelis. Instead, here’s what the Palestinians do. They teach their four- year-old children that killing Jews is a glorious thing. Here’s what Hamas does. They launch rockets and terrorist attacks again Israel on an ongoing basis. The bottom line is, a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, given the current makeup of the Palestinians, is not possible.

And so the next president of the United States needs to be someone like me who will stand firmly on the side of Israel. I’m not — I’m not going to sit here and say, “Oh, I’m not on either side.” I will be on a side. I will be on Israel’s side every single day because they are the only pro-American, free enterprise democracy in the entire Middle East.


BLITZER: Mr. Trump?

TRUMP: I’m a negotiator. I’ve done very well over the years through negotiation. It’s very important that we do that. In all fairness, Marco is not a negotiator. I watched him melt down and I’ll tell you, it was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. He’s not going down — excuse me…

RUBIO: He thinks a Palestinian is a real estate deal.

TRUMP: … wait a minute, and these people may even be tougher than Chris Christie. OK?

RUBIO: The Palestinians are not a real estate deal, Donald.

TRUMP: OK, no, no, no — a deal is a deal. Let me tell you that. I learned a long time ago.

RUBIO: A deal is not a deal when you’re dealing with terrorists. Have you ever negotiated with terrorists?

TRUMP: You are not a negotiator. You are not a negotiator.


TRUMP: And, with your thinking, you will never bring peace. You will never bring peace…

RUBIO: … Donald, might be able to (inaudible) Palestinians and Arabs, but it’s not a real estate deal…

TRUMP: … Excuse me, I want to be able to bring peace…

BLITZER: … Senator.

TRUMP: He will never be able to do it. I think I may be able to do it, although I will say this. Probably the toughest deal of any kind is that particular deal.

If anything, all of these exchanges were more devastating to watch live than they read on paper.

(Irony is truly dead if Donald Trump can go on about how “demeaning the neighbors” is a bad thing, or ramble about how the problem with our healthcare system is that we have borders that prevent competition).

Did any of this mean anything? Will it matter? Well, only the voters can decide. But the two best conservatives in the field acted like it tonight, and exposed the GOP frontrunner as an ignorant, thin-skinned fraud who belongs in the other party’s debate. No supporter of Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz could go home disappointed tonight: they held nothing back and left it all on the floor. They were commanding, they were eloquent, they were funny, they were informed, they spoke from the heart about America’s promise and its challenges, and a spoiled rich kid blustered at them out of his overblown sense of entitlement that they should sit down and get out of his way.

If that doesn’t make a difference, maybe America isn’t really meant to have two parties anymore.

Charlie Crist Picks A Fight Republicans Don’t Need

Republicans are going to have a lot of challenges and a lot of opportunities in the 2010 elections. One thing the party needs to do is get our best candidates into races we can win; another is to make sure we hold the easy races and avoid bloody and ideologically divisive primaries in the tough ones; a third is to make sure we can raise adequate funds to support all the races we need to contest; and a fourth is to promote the young stars of the party who will represent its future.
Charlie Crist disregarded all of that when he announced that he was dropping out of the race for re-election as Governor of Florida to enter the primary to replace retiring Republican Senator Mel Martinez. And NRSC Chairman John Cornyn, by immediately endorsing Crist, signalled that he encouraged this sort of behavior. Shame on both of them for putting Crist’s personal ambitions above the good of the party. Let us count the ways in which Crist’s decision is bad for the Florida GOP and the national party:

Continue reading Charlie Crist Picks A Fight Republicans Don’t Need