Wednesday 9 March
After Super Tuesday, there was Super Saturday. Only it wasn’t quite so super for Donald Trump – and for Marco Rubio it was worse than a day stuck in the house in the middle of winter with pouring rain, screaming kids and nothing on the TV. For Texas senator Ted Cruz, it was his best day since his win in Iowa. It was also a significant point in this election campaign.
Republican voters turned out for caucuses in Kansas, Maine and Kentucky while New Orleans held its primary. Cruz won in the first two and came within five points of Donald Trump in the last two. While the billionaire businessman claimed that this was a huge night for him, in the all-important delegate count Cruz did much better. He picked up 62. Trump managed just 49. While it blunts Trump’s momentum, it doesn’t signal a collapse in support. His wins last night in Michigan and Mississippi prove that. He can play right across the country and continues to do so.
What is changing is the idea that Marco Rubio is the greatest challenge to a Trump coronation. He had a another bad night last night. Add that to the results on Saturday and it’s beginning to look like the end for the Florida senator. Rubio has spent the last two weeks going after Trump strongly. On the debate stage he’s confronted him. On the campaign trail, he’s ridiculed him. And in interviews he’s undermined him. The voters have clearly decided they don’t like the tone of the attacks and it paints Republicans in a bad way. So they’ve punished Rubio.
His campaign team say they knew that Saturday would be rough. But the senator who keeps telling people what he’ll do on his first day in office has won only two contests. He’s pinning his hopes on Florida, which is a winner-takes-all state for delegates, but he’s struggling there and a win is by no means guaranteed or, at this point, expected. He’s got to do much better soon.
If not, the Republican Party is facing its worst case scenario. For as much as it distrusts Trump, it dislikes Ted Cruz just as much. He has been anti-establishment since the moment he arrived in Washington. He manufactured a shutdown of the federal government, upset congressional leaders and is so disliked by his colleagues that he hasn’t secured one endorsement from his fellow senators. As one Republican told me: 'Ted Cruz will always do what's best for Ted Cruz. He's been running for president since he arrived here'.
The Texas senator is a strict Conservative, both on fiscal and social issues. He believes that his party has failed to win the White House because previous candidates have not been right-wing enough. His opponents says that he’s been running a campaign full of dirty tricks, while there are concerns that his positions will alienate America’s political middle. If he were to win the nomination, he couldn’t pivot to the centre as candidates usually do. And there is a fear it could lead to a big Republican defeat.
With Rubio struggling and no obvious route to the nomination, it looks like the Republican battle is narrowing down to these two. John Nichols writing for The Nation now suggests the Republicans face a choice 'between a narcissistic billionaire who keeps saying awful things and a narcissistic senator who keeps doing awful things'.
The Republican field started with 17 candidates who wanted to be the president. The party boasted of its 'deep bench', the outstanding experience on offer, the broad talents of those on show. Now it could be a battle between the two they least wanted to be the standard bearer in November.