After Super Tuesday, there are only two possible outcomes for the GOP: a Donald Trump nomination or a contested convention.
Such is the reality facing the Republican party today. Its leaders are now staring down two scenarios they long dismissed as fantasy, after a slew of Super Tuesday contests demonstrated once again both the breadth of Trump’s support and the difficulty in unifying his opposition.
Trump didn’t win a clean sweep on Tuesday, as many predicted. But he carried a majority of the states that voted and widened his overall delegate lead, thanks in no small part to a still-fractured field that shows no sign of winnowing. Ted Cruz bounced back behind a powerhouse performance in Texas, stacking up three more wins and an impressive number of delegates. Marco Rubio and John Kasich, meanwhile, struggled to break through and may have prevented each other from toppling Trump in two separate elections.
All of the Trump-chasers, even Ben Carson, are now girding for what they see as a long slog to a contested convention. Their hope is that they can collectively deny Trump the victories he needs in upcoming winner-take-all states, stopping him short of the 1,237 delegates required to clinch the nomination and throwing the July convention into chaos. Yet another outcome is just as likely — that some combination of Cruz, Rubio, Kasich, and Carson swipe so many votes from one another that Trump keeps notching victories with pluralities of somewhere between 30 and 40 percent, coasting to Cleveland as the party’s standard-bearer.
The saving grace for Trump’s enemies thus far has been proportionality; though he has won 10 of the first 15 states, his rivals remain within striking distance. As of early Wednesday morning, rough overall delegate allocations put Trump between 330 and 340, Cruz between 230 and 240, and Rubio between 110 and 120. “If this were winner-take-all, it would be over,” a triumphant Trump told reporters Tuesday at his election-night event in Florida. Party elders had been heartened in the pre–March 1 home stretch to see Trump finally put on the defensive by Rubio and Cruz and to see fresh signs of organized obstruction to the real-estate mogul’s ascent. They had hoped Tuesday would bring evidence that Trump’s appeal was abating and that the electorate was ready to rally around a single challenger to defeat him. They were disappointed on both fronts. Trump dominated from the conservative Deep South to the moderate Northeast, winning seven of the eleven states that voted and padding his delegate lead in the process. Exit polls showed him performing well with both men and women, conservatives and moderates, Evangelicals and non-believers, the wealthy and low-income voters. He underperformed in several states, including Virginia, but still narrowly defeated Rubio there — largely because Kasich siphoned votes from Rubio in the commonwealth’s affluent, well-educated D.C. suburbs. (Rubio returned the favor in Vermont, peeling away just enough votes from Kasich to allow Trump to escape with a 1,400-vote victory.)
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