A Trump loss next week in Texas could still boost his chances
Cruz, Rubio continuing to split the anti-Trump vote is a grim vision for Republican elites
This is how crazily good things are tumbling for Donald Trump: If, as expected, he loses to Texas Senator Ted Cruz in the Texas Republican presidential primary next week, that might be the best thing that could happen for him.
Texas is the jackpot on Super Tuesday with 155 delegates, so a win there would give a big boost to Cruz's faltering campaign — just the thing to quell the feeble surge Senator Marco Rubio put on in South Carolina and Nevada this week.
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Result: Cruz stays in the game, and he and Rubio continue to divide up most of the anti-Trump vote until Trump finally locks up the nomination.
That's a grim outcome for the Republican elites, who have decided Rubio is the last man who has even a whisker of a chance to stop Trump.
So if they're going give it a try, then getting Cruz out of the way is where they have to start.
The establishment gangs up on Trump
They're doing it the only way they know how, by behaving like the establishment kingpins they are.
They've desperately flocked to Rubio, giving him the endorsements of just the kind of credentialed Washington insiders Trump has been railing against — a flood of congressman and senators came out for him this week — and they're passing the hat among some of the donors who, not long ago, thought Jeb Bush was a very fine idea indeed.
In possibly related efforts, three of the biggest establishment newspapers in Texas came out against Cruz in the same week.
The Dallas Morning News said he "threatens to take the Republican Party to a dark place."
The San Antonio Express-News said Cruz "lacks the temperament" to be president.
Even his hometown paper, the Houston Chronicle, warned that, if Cruz is so disliked by the people he is supposed to work with in Washington, "imagine how ineffectual he would be in the White House."
Although the papers didn't line up behind Rubio, they stayed well clear of Trump.
In any event, Texas is Cruz's home state so he's still expected to win there; he's been leading in the latest Texas polls
Delegate-selection rules aid Trump
And there's another reason that works for Trump.
Not only does a Cruz win mean he stays in the race and splits the anti-Trump vote, but the rules of delegate selection change in mid-March.
Instead of the assortment of complicated proportional representation rules that govern the contests in the first half of primary season, most later primaries have a simple winner-take-all rule.
That produces the kind of results that characterize Canadian elections.
In the March 15 primary in Rubio's home state of Florida, for example, Trump could win a three-way race with 35 per cent of the vote and walk away with 100 per cent of the 99 delegates.
No wonder Republicans who are outside the Trump tent are panicking.
Respect the bulldozer
The Tuesday night result in Nevada gave them three new reasons to respect the Trump bulldozer.
First, he crashed through the 40 per cent barrier. His 45 per cent of the vote obliterated the old argument that Trump has a high floor and a low ceiling of support at about 35 per cent — no more, no less.
Second, with Nevada, he can now claim to have won in the West as well as in the Northeast (New Hampshire) and in the South among evangelicals (South Carolina).
And third, he won more of the Hispanic vote than any other Republican candidate. Republicans have only a small share of that vote in Nevada (Barack Obama won there handily in 2012, largely with Hispanic support) but still, Trump was up against two Cuban-Americans and got more Hispanic votes than either.
When the history of this campaign is written, the inability of the Republican Party elite to deal quickly and effectively with the threat of a hostile takeover from a grassroots movement inspired by racist demagogy is going to figure big.
They kept much too quiet for far too long. But that might be ending now.
A horror show for Republicans?
Not only are the backroom players finally moving against Trump, the public conversation is changing as it begins to reckon with an increasingly likely Trump ticket in the fall.
Republican Senate candidates, for example, are seeing a potential horror show.
The one-third of senators who are up for re-election are mostly Republicans who were elected in 2010 when political conditions were particularly good for them, Some were elected in strongly Democratic territory.
Take Republican Kelly Ayotte from New Hampshire, for instance. She won her Senate seat in 2010 in a state that went for Bill Clinton twice, Obama twice and even John Kerry in 2004.
Presidential election years promise to be tough enough for her without factoring in Trump on the Republican ticket.
And what if Republicans were to lose the Senate and the White House?
How would their gamble on blocking Obama's Supreme Court nomination to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia look then? Democrats would not only be appointing from the White House, they'd be confirming in the Senate. Republicans would have squandered their check on power.
The 'Jerry Springer-ization' of politics
On CNN Tuesday night, Tara Setmayer, who, as a Republican activist, is supposed to bring her thoughtful analysis to the defence of that political corner, instead watched the Nevada results come in and interrupted the usual discussion of political tactics to push back against the tendency to simply adapt to Trump's prejudices as the new reality.
She railed against the "Jerry Springer-ization" of the political process and asked whether people "really know who Trump is."
"He's the polar opposite of what we stand for and yet he is not held to account," she said. "Seventy per cent of Republicans don't care for him."
Trump was not responding to her when he nevertheless claimed "68 per cent [of his supporters] aren't leaving me under any circumstances. I think that means murder. I think that means anything."
Republicans who have been thinking things looked bad for a while are apparently considering how much worse they might look next week, next month and especially next November.