With the votes tallied on Saturday, two things seem clear: It’s now a two-man Republican race between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. And the Democratic battle isn’t quite over yet.
Cruz pulled off a surprisingly strong showing on Saturday. He took a majority of the votes in Kansas, a caucus state with a heavily evangelical GOP electorate, and he managed a win in the Maine caucuses, too. He also finished a strong second to Trump in the day’s other races, in Louisiana and Kentucky.
“That scream you hear coming from Washington, D.C., is pure terror,” Cruz said as he declared victory in Kansas. Actually, it was probably Marco Rubio’s supporters. The onetime Tea Party darling has become the last, best hope of the Republican establishment, but he had a brutal night. He placed third in three states. In Maine, he fell to fourth and failed to garner enough votes to win a single delegate.
In recent days, Rubio had made stopping Trump his primary mission—turning to playground taunts and all-out assaults on his fitness for office. It appears not to have done his own campaign any good; if it eroded Trump’s support at all, the benefits seem to have accrued to Cruz, and in some states, perhaps to John Kasich. It’s increasingly difficult to see a path to victory for the Florida senator. “I want Ted one-on-one,” Trump said, calling on Rubio to abandon the race.
On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders showed resilience after a sound drubbing on Super Tuesday. He won Nebraska and Kansas, while Clinton posted a dominating win in Louisiana. But if Sanders showed that he’s still in the race, he failed to demonstrate that he had shifted its dynamics. Unless he can start winning in states with larger numbers of minority voters, Clinton’s lead in the delegate count will only grow.
The New England senator is hoping for a strong showing on Sunday in Maine, and then on Tuesday will look to limit Clinton’s margin in Mississippi and to win Michigan’s enormous trove of delegates.
Seven states have now held Republican caucuses to allocate delegates—and Donald Trump has lost everywhere but Kentucky and Nevada. Caucus states tend to reward grassroots activists and careful organization, and Cruz has done particularly well in them.
But Trump prevailed in Louisiana’s primary, a southern state with a heavily evangelical electorate. He did the same in Kentucky, cleaning up in a state that’s home to a leader of the Republican establishment, Senator Mitch McConnell, and an icon of the party’s libertarian wing, Senator Rand Paul.
He has now survived an extended tour of the South, and emerged with a strong lead. These were states in which Cruz once hoped to build up a prohibitive edge by the time the race turned to less favorable territory. Instead, he’s left trying to make up ground.
Puerto Rico votes on Sunday. The island hasn’t been polled, but Marco Rubio is there in a last-ditch effort to salvage his campaign. On Tuesday, the Republican race heads to Michigan, Mississippi, Idaho, and Hawaii. The first three are primaries, and polling averages show Trump ahead in Michigan and Missouri. And then, on March 15, come the winner-take-all primaries in Ohio and Florida—contests on which John Kasich and Marco Rubio have staked their candidacies.
Trump warns the GOP against exploring third-party runs should he win the nomination. “It 100 percent guarantees the election of the Democrat.” All the Republican presidents pledged last fall not to mount independent campaigns if they’re unsuccessful, and at this week’s debate, all the non-Trump candidates, visibly pained, vowed to support the Republican nominee, whoever he may be.
Trump opened his victory speech with a couple of thank-yous to the voters in Louisiana and Kentucky, then pivoted to his competitors. Cruz's success in Maine wasn't surprising, he said, “because it's very close to Canada.” And Rubio? "Personally, I'd call for him to drop out of the race. I think it's time now.”
With all four states called, one thing is clear: Marco Rubio was demolished tonight. On Super Tuesday, he won Minnesota and placed second in a few states—not good, but not fatal either. But on Super Saturday, he hit third place in three states and plunged to fourth place in Maine. Voters who cast ballots today in Louisiana and Kentucky appear to have broken for Cruz, helping him surge to nip at Trump's heels in both states while sending Rubio below 20 percent in Kentucky and below 15 percent in Louisiana. Suddenly, Cruz's ten new offices in Florida—a must-win state for Rubio—look 10 times more dangerous.
AP and CNN call Kentucky for Trump, who’s waiting to speak in West Palm Beach, Florida. It was a tight race, per CNN: 35.1 percent for Trump and 31.4 for Cruz. Rubio and Kasich trailed far behind, with 17 percent and 14.8 percent, respectively. Trump tweeted his thanks to Kentucky minutes ago.
Now Trump has a victory to celebrate tonight too: Multiple news outlets are projecting a victory for him in the Louisiana Republican primary. What will be important to watch here is the margins of victory. The state awards 46 delegates in total, but in an unusual manner.
Twenty-eight of those delegates are awarded proportionally with a 20 percent viability threshold. But delegates awarded to candidates below that threshold aren't redistributed to other candidates, as they are in other states. Instead, they become uncommitted delegates. That'll limit the size of Trump's haul.
The other 18 delegates are awarded by congressional district, but with a twist. Unless a candidate crosses the 50 percent threshold in a congressional district, the 3 delegates per district are split between the top 3 winners. This means Trump could get 45 percent of the vote in a district, Cruz could get 25 percent, and Rubio could get 20 percent, and all three men would get one delegate each. Thanks to these byzantine allocation rules, anything but a blowout for Trump will still leave significant numbers of delegates on the table for his rivals.
Hillary Clinton may have just won Louisiana, but she’s already looking ahead to Tuesday. “Now all eyes turn to Michigan,” the Democratic presidential candidate told supporters in Detroit this evening. Clinton made a pitch to blue-collar voters who have suffered economic setbacks. “Working families need a raise, and more good jobs—jobs that pay well and provide dignity, pride, and a sense of purpose,” Clinton said to applause. She painted herself as a candidate who will stand up for American workers, an image that her campaign likely hopes will counter the suggestion of her opponent Bernie Sanders that Clinton has a cozy relationship with corporate America. Sanders is also setting his sights on Michigan, hoping that his core message of fighting against economic inequality will resonate in the Rust Belt.
CNN and AP have now called Louisiana for Hillary Clinton—her first win of the day. Trump leads there with 47.8 percent of the vote, per CNN's number. Cruz follows with 31 percent, and Rubio and Kasich have both registered 13 percent.
The polls in Louisiana, the last nominating contest of the night, have just closed, and CNN reports Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are in the lead. But unlike Super Tuesday, tonight is not the night of the frontrunners: Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders have picked up two states each.
And Bernie Sanders has won the Nebraska Democratic caucuses. CNN has projected that he will win the state, and AP has called the state in his favor. Several minutes ago a Nebraska Democratic party official announced that with 75 percent of the vote counted, Sanders led Clinton with 54.77 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 45.23 percent. This is the second win of the night for Sanders, who also came out ahead in the Kansas Democratic caucuses. This is good news for the Sanders campaign, which desperately needed to rack up some wins after a string of defeats on Super Tuesday.
Ted Cruz is officially the winner of the Maine Republican caucuses. Super Saturday is shaping up to be quite the night for Cruz, who earlier in the evening notched a victory in Kansas. Maine and Kansas both held caucuses, primary contests that tend to favor campaigns, like Cruz's, that invest heavily in field organizing and voter turnout. If Cruz can keep up the momentum, the GOP primary will increasingly begin to look like a two-person race between his campaign and Trump. Expect Cruz to point to the results in Maine as proof that he can take down Trump.
Cruz took 45.84 percent of the vote, followed by Trump at 32.55, and Kasich 12.17. Marco Rubio, who garnered just 8 percent, will not receive any delegates.
Bernie Sanders is the winner of the Kansas Democratic caucus, the state party just announced. It's an important win for the Vermont senator, who's taken a shellacking in the delegate count after Clinton scored a series of massive wins in the South on Super Tuesday. Super Saturday saw the race move to more favorable territory for Sanders: He tends to perform better in caucuses and in states where the Democratic demographics tilt whiter. That gives him an edge in the Nebraska caucus next door, which hasn't yet reported results. But look for Clinton to shine in Louisiana's primary, where she hopes to score another big Southern win.
Donald Trump tried a new trick at his Orlando rally on Saturday. All campaigns worry about getting their supporters to the polls, but it’s a particularly acute concern for the Republican frontrunner, who lacks either the endorsements from local officials or the voter turnout operations his rivals enjoy.
“Raise your right hand,” he said. “I do solemnly swear … that no matter how I feel, no matter what the conditions, if there’s hurricanes or whatever—that’s good enough—will vote on or before the 12th … for Donald J. Trump for president.”
A bit of political theater, perhaps. And such pledges can be an effective tactic—a landmark 1996 study found that voters were more likely to turn out if they made a personalized pledge in the final two weeks before an election.
Still, many found the sight of an arena full of enthusiastic supporters raising their hands in a pledge of support for a candidate disquieting. The oath seemed aimed less at encouraging voters to fulfill their civic obligation, than to solicit a pledge of loyalty to the candidate himself.
“Thank you,” Trump concluded. “Now I know. Don’t forget you all raised your hands; you swore. Bad things happen if you don’t live up to what you just did.”
As Maine goes, so goes the nation.
It was the great political adage of its day. Maine held its gubernatorial balloting in September of presidential election years. From the 1840s onward, pundits looked to Maine to the results in Maine to forecast the November outcomes. And three-quarters of the time, it was right.
In 1924, for example, Republican Governor Ralph Brewster won an election that revolved around his endorsement by the Ku Klux Klan—and his refusal to distance himself from the nativist organization. That result presaged Calvin Coolidge’s crushing victory in November, despite his own refusal to distance himself from the Klan.
Then, in 1936, Alf Landon challenged Franklin Delano Roosevelt. On the eve of Maine’s election, he spoke to a crowd of 25,000 gathered in Portland, decrying the weakening of democracy, the attack on free enterprise, and the advent of one-man rule. The Republicans won across the board. “Maine has proved that the people of this country are aroused to their danger and determined to preserve their system of government, and of life,” Landon exulted.
But in November, Roosevelt won re-election by one of the greatest landslide sin American history, with 61 percent of the vote. Maine was only one of two states to back Landon. “As Maine goes, so goes Vermont,” quipped F.D.R.’s campaign manager James Farley, adapting a line from the political humorist Will Rogers.
The lesson is broader than Maine. Every four years, pundits pull out their lists of indicators and predictors. How many endorsements have candidates amassed? Did they win the straw poll in Iowa? Two of the first three contests? One particular county?
But even the most accurate of these past correlations can’t help predict political change. By 1936, Maine had drifted—demographically, culturally, and economically—away from the American average. In the next five elections, before it switched to November voting, it predicted the outcome just once—and only because the rest of the nation liked Ike.
Tonight, Ted Cruz has the early lead in Maine. If he holds on, it’d be an upset win for Cruz. But it doesn’t say much about what happens next.
With all precincts reporting in Kansas's Republican caucus, the most impressive result might be the turnout. 73,116 Kansans turned out today, almost three times more than in 2012, when 29,857 caucusgoers showed up. Even taking into account that the 2016 GOP race is still wide open and the 2012 race was mostly sewn up by the time it reached Kansas, that's a massive surge.
Is that cause for Republican optimism in the general? It's hard to say. Primary turnout doesn't correlate well with general election turnout. Deep fracturing among Republicans also makes it hard for any one candidate to harness this intensity, especially if Trump wins. It's possible Republicans could emerge from this increasingly destructive race with newfound energy, but I'm doubtful.
Bernie Sanders is ratcheting up his critique of rival Hillary Clinton, and opted to use a speech to supporters in Michigan to spell out a difference between the two campaigns. In what has by now become a familiar line of attack, Sanders hit Clinton on campaign finance. “Secretary Clinton has a number of super PACs,” Sanders said as the crowd booed loudly. (In contrast, the self-described Democratic socialist says he doesn’t have or want a super PAC, though that hasn’t stopped super PACs from backing his campaign despite his insistence.)
Next, he went after Clinton’s Wall Street ties. “She has given a number of speeches behind closed doors to Wall Street,” Sanders said. “If you’re gonna be paid 225,000 dollars for a speech it must be a fantastic speech, a brilliant speech, which you would want to share with the American people,” he added to laughter and applause, clearly trolling. Sanders apparently believes that highlighting a contrast with Clinton will help him win votes, or at least send a clear message about what he stands for. But Sanders’s suggestions that Clinton can’t be trusted could negatively define her candidacy in a way that ultimately proves dangerous for the Democratic Party heading into the general election. That is, if Clinton ends up as the nominee.
At 7 p.m., the first results began to trickle in from the Kentucky primary, and they show a tight battle between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.
In Kansas, it’s already clear that Ted Cruz has won—and he’s apparently won big. The tallies at DecisionDeskHQ show him with 50.6 percent of the vote, with 97.2 percent of precincts reporting. John Kasich, meanwhile, has garnered just 8.8 percent support in Kansas—and so will apparently fail to clear the state’s threshold of 10 percent, and receive no delegates.
In Maine, with 45.5 percent of precincts reporting, Ted Cruz retains his lead. He’s got 42.3 percent of the vote, to Donald Trump’s 33.9 percent. His margins have narrowed, but Trump is running out of time to overtake him.
The strategy question for Ted Cruz now is: What should happen in Florida? If he actively competes there, then he could take votes away from Rubio and ensure what is already a likely Trump win. Or he could stay out of the state and hope Rubio pulls out the win. If Rubio won, Trump would be denied additional delegates and Cruz would still have the stronger case compared with Rubio to be the Trump-alternative candidate.
But that’s risky. In campaigns, narratives matter, and Cruz doesn’t want to risk the chance that the narrative becomes one of Rubio the heroic underdog. If Trump wins Florida, on the other hand, it’s a wash. Just another feather in Trump’s cap, and in a state where the story won’t be that Trump won or that Cruz lost. The story will be that Rubio lost. And Cruz can maintain his unite-behind-me alternative to Trump message going forward.
Plus, if you’re going to play, play to win. Cruz has to compete for the whole board. And trying to take Florida means, worst case, Cruz denies Rubio his home state (still good for Cruz), and best case, Cruz somehow wins.
Ted Cruz took questions from reporters after his speech in Idaho. The senator once again pitched himself as the only alternative to Donald Trump. He described himself as a candidate who can unite a fractious Republican Party, pointing to his win in Kansas, his lead in Maine, and his victory in CPAC’s annual straw poll—“all very different groups of voters,” he said. “To see strong, strong winds across the board is very encouraging, and I think what it represents is Republicans coalescing, saying, ‘It would be a disaster for Donald Trump to be our nominee, and we’re going to stand behind the strongest conservative in the race.’”
National Review, in an article titled “Donald Trump Is Melting Down,” the storied conservative magazine—that devoted an entire issue to an attempt to convince the Republican conservative base to ditch Trump—is forecasting the implosion of Trump. Have they learned nothing? Forget about whether or not Trump is losing it, forget about his lead in the delegate count; what do we know about Trump supporters? They do not care what he says or does. Also: They don’t read National Review.
Ted Cruz took a victory lap while speaking to a crowd of supporters in Idaho, despite the fact that it’s still early in the night. “God bless, Kansas,” Cruz said, enthusiastically, noting that media outlets have declared him the winner tonight in the state’s Republican caucuses. Maine hasn’t been decided yet, but the early results look good for him there, too. “And God bless Maine,” he said, to cheers. Given how widely disliked Cruz is in Washington, Republican Party elites have got to be pretty unhappy right now. As Sacha noted, that’s not lost on Cruz. “The scream you hear,” Cruz said, relishing the moment, “the howl that comes from Washington, D.C., is utter terror at what we the people are doing together.”
“That scream you hear coming from Washington, D.C., is pure terror.”
—said Ted Cruz just now with deep pride as part of his victory speech in Kansas. There’s really nothing more to add.
- CNN is projecting that Ted Cruz is the winner of the Kansas GOP caucuses. Right now according to the CNN tally Cruz has over half of the vote in the state. Donald Trump is trailing Cruz in second place with around 24 percent of the vote, while Marco Rubio comes in third with roughly 15 percent. The win will bolster Cruz's argument that he’s the most viable alternative to Trump.
More good news for Ted Cruz, who is currently leading the GOP primary vote in Kansas and Maine as results are tallied. CPAC, the annual conservative convention, just announced that Cruz won this year's conference straw poll.
Donald Trump sounded like a front-runner in Florida this afternoon, wasting no time in taking aim at his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, as he held a rally in Orlando. “We can’t play games,” Trump warned. “Our country is in deep trouble. We have to beat her. It looks like she’s gonna make it.” He mocked Bernie Sanders, saying: “Bernie is gone. Bernie is gone, regardless. Bernie had his time.” It wasn’t all negative, though. Trump had plenty of love and praise for his devoted fans. “No matter where we go, we’re packed," Trump marveled, to applause and cheers. “We have the biggest audiences, the biggest crowds by far.”
Trump couldn’t resist taking a shot at Marco Rubio, though, who went after him at CPAC, the annual conservative gathering held just outside Washington, DC, earlier in the day. “When Little Marco has a rally, when they get 300 people, 200 people, it’s fine” Trump said. “I’m not knocking it, but that’s sort of a normal thing. This is not a normal situation folks,” Trump said. “This is not a normal situation.”
Florida voters aren’t even heading to the polls today, but Trump’s attention to the state highlights the pivotal role it could play in deciding the eventual GOP nominee. On top of spending time in the Sunshine State on Saturday, Trump has plans to spend heavily there. The presidential candidate “is dropping close to $1 million apiece in Ohio and Florida for television ads,” The New York Times recently reported. If Trump takes Florida, it will be a devastating blow for Rubio, who hopes to win his home state despite the fact that he currently trails Trump in the polls.
Speaking of Kansas, it looks like they’ve had a record turnout for the Republican caucuses today and are currently running out of ballots. KWCH 12 in Wichita reports that there may even be triple the number of caucus-goers compared with 2012 by the time it’s all tallied.
Kansas’s results are starting to come in, and, according to CNN, it looks like Ted Cruz has more than 50 percent of the Republican vote with 3 percent of the totals in—and caucus doors just closed. If this keeps up, Cruz will definitely be able to make a strong case that he is the only candidate who can derail the Trump nomination.
In other Cruz news, former presidential candidate and senator Lindsey Graham made headlines this week by grudgingly kinda sorta backing Cruz. Graham had memorably called the choice between Cruz and Trump as akin to the choice between being poisoned and getting shot. On Thursday, Graham told CNN correspondent and Obama whisperer David Axlerod that he’d “pick the poison” and that the party may just have to rally around Cruz to stop Trump.
Back in Kansas, meanwhile, Trump casually dropped by a caucus site to hob-knob with the voters, a neat trick he pulled in Nevada that won him cheers so loud they drowned out conservative celeb and Cruz surrogate Glenn Beck. Well, in Kansas the tables turned. The caucus-goers, far from being pleasantly surprised, were downright aghast, earning Trump a roomful of serious Boos, which seemed to rattle the front-runner—if only temporarily.
Here’s a weird and fascinating story Bill Clinton dropped on an Omaha audience yesterday about proposing marriage to Hillary back in the day:
“I said, ‘Hillary, I’ve met all the most gifted, ambitious young people in politics in our generation,’” Bill told the crowd. “‘All the people working in the antiwar movement, the women’s movement, the civil-rights movement. You’re the best.’” Beautiful, right? Being the best in three different liberal movements checks all the boxes on Bill’s marriage-material list.
“‘You’re the best I’ve ever seen at actually making something happen,’” Bill continued. “And she broke into a laugh. She said: ‘You’ve got to be kidding. Nobody would ever vote for me for anything. I’m too pushy. I’m too blunt. I could never get elected to anything.’” Oh, those old titles, those old liberal movement leadership positions? I’ve had them forever. Seriously, though, I’m too good at what I do to win anything. Of course, Bill did not suggest she’d be electable to anything—just that she’s “the best”—and I’m pretty sure he was thinking about her assets vis-a-vis his career, not hers.
Still, dewy-eyed romantic that he is, Bill assured her: “‘Don’t worry about that.’ So she married me.”
And then they took over the world.
In an intervention disguised as a speech earlier this week, Mitt Romney said, “The only serious policy proposals that deal with the broad range of national challenges we confront, come today from Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich”—not Donald Trump. “One of these men should be our nominee,” he said. But, as establishment Republicans keep learning the hard way, shrewd policy proposals are not the biggest selling points for many of the voters who have catapulted Trump to front-runner status. According to a Gallup poll of Trump supporters released Friday, 22 percent said they want to see Trump become the party’s nominee because “he’s not a career politician/Outsider” and 16 percent because he’s “good businessman.” Another 14 percent said they like him because he speaks his mind. Just 3 percent of supporters said their most important reason for supporting Trump was his “good financial plan/Get budget under control,” and 2 percent because of “the economy and jobs.” Sorry, Mitt.
Trump entered the weekend with 10 wins out of 15 nominating contests under his belt. He’s expected to do well in Maine and to face competition from Cruz in Kansas and Louisiana, where voters tend to pick evangelist, conservative candidates.
Marco Rubio went after Donald Trump at CPAC, the annual conservative gathering held just outside Washington, D.C., this afternoon. At times, Rubio attacked Trump by name. “Donald Trump, he might have grown up the way he did with a lot of money and going to boarding schools," Rubio said at one point, adding: “I can tell you this, where I grew up, if someone keeps punching people in the face, eventually someone’s going to have to stand up and punch them back.” At other moments at the conservative convention, Rubio stuck to thinly veiled shots at the GOP front-runner. “The American dream’s not about how much money you make, or how many buildings have your name on it,” Rubio said to cheers and applause. “I wasn’t talking about anybody in particular,” he insisted slyly, as the crowd laughed. It was all very wink, wink, nudge, nudge, but the message, and its intended target, was clear.
Despite an obvious willingness to talk Trump, Rubio feigned disappointed and scolded the media for continually turning the conversation back to his rival. “Even before he was the front-runner, Donald would offend someone personally, he’d make fun of a disabled reporter or attack a woman journalist and he would dominate news coverage,” Rubio said. “Of course, he’s going to get all this attention.” The apparent tension highlights Rubio’s current predicament. He’s eager to show he can talk tough on Trump and take his rival down a peg. But as Rubio goes after Trump, he risks the perception that the main focus of his campaign is, well, Trump. “I didn’t get into this to beat up on the other candidates, I really didn’t,” Rubio lamented. “I’m more than happy to share with you my opinion of Donald Trump, but I’m running for president because I think this country needs to re-embrace the Constitution, this country needs to re-embrace free enterprise, and needs to re-embrace a strong national defense.”
Peggy Noonan’s column in The Wall Street Journal Thursday, “The Republican Party is Shattering,”excoriated GOP elites. “The establishment was slow to see what was happening, slow to see Mr. Trump coming, in full denial as he continued to win,” Noonan wrote. “Their denial is self-indicting. They couldn’t see his appeal because they had no idea how their own people were experiencing America.” For several years now, there has been an undercurrent of anti-intellectualism in the Republican Party—from a repudiation of science to the idea that life experience should count for more than an excellent education. So it’s a weird twist to see Noonan exposing the elitist underbelly running the show at Republican HQ. Still, she misses the mark.
“A prime responsibility, is to understand those who are not establishment and elite and look out for them, take care of them,” she writes with an air of noblesse oblige only to set up the next sentence: “Not in a government-from-on-high way, not with an air of noblesse oblige, but in a way that is respectfully attentive to the facts of their lives.” So respectful noblesse oblige? Noonan continues: “You have a responsibility when you lead not to offend needlessly, not to impose realities you yourself can buy your way out of. You don’t privately make fun of people as knuckle-draggers, victims of teachers-union educations, low-information voters.” No, party leaders should not make fun of Americans as knuckle-draggers (and by the way, who did?), but they should not capitulate to Americans’ baser instincts, either. Refusing to engage the part of the electorate that wants to build a wall, ban Muslims, race-bait, and bully is not the same as treating anyone badly or failing to know your voters. To the extent that the party elites disavow Trump, I’d argue is not noblesse oblige; it’s just noble.
“I always tell people that my parents were successful. … The American dream is not about how much money you have or how many buildings have your name on it. … They had a home in a stable neighborhood and they left all four of their children better off.” —Marco Rubio at CPAC
One of the four GOP contests today is in Maine, where Republicans will caucus. (Democrats hold their own caucuses tomorrow.) Whatever the results, Republican officials will be hoping this year’s caucus is less of a catastrophe than the 2012 edition.
Four years ago, eventual nominee Mitt Romney won the state. That was a big disappointment for Representative Ron Paul, who had aggressively campaigned in Maine. But it emerged that there were several problems with the vote. Because of bad weather, several counties were unable to actually hold their caucuses on Election Day (though they had two and a half months to do so ahead of time). State officials refused to count the results of a makeup caucus the following week. Paul backers were furious, especially because one of the affected counties was strong for him. Based on the numbers at play, Paul almost certainly wouldn’t have won the state with the extra votes, but it was easy to see why voters were furious and felt disenfranchised.
So furious were they, in fact, that they took advantage of the arcane rules of caucuses and staged a small coup at the state convention—caucusgoers just choose delegates to the convention, who then decide who the state’s delegates to the Republican National Convention will be. When the dust cleared, 20 of 24 Maine delegates were Paul backers. Then the national party disqualified 10 of them, replacing them with Romney fans. For a small state where Republicans aren’t even a majority, Maine produces a lot of GOP acrimony.
The state GOP has made several changes to try to avoid such a fate this year. It will be easier to register, and all 23 delegates at stake will be “bound” to support a candidate. Predicting who might win is tough, though Governor Paul LePage has endorsed Trump. The good news is it’s supposed to be a cold but sunny day—so caucus cancelations shouldn’t be an issue.
As voters in several states caucus or head to the polls, presidential candidates are fanning out across the country in a last-minute bid to gin up enthusiasm. Donald Trump skipped CPAC, the annual conservative gathering where he had been slated to speak this morning, to hold a rally in Kansas instead. “Wow, big lines in Kansas,” Trump said earlier, adding that afterward he will head to Orlando, Florida, to rile up voters there. Meanwhile, the John Kasich campaign broadcast a rally the candidate held in Traverse City, Michigan, to Facebook earlier this morning. Even candidates who are no longer actually candidates are getting in on the fun. Rand Paul, the GOP candidate who dropped out of the race last month, tweeted this morning that he’s in Northern Kentucky and ready to do his civic duty. That didn’t seem to sit well with Trump, who couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a shot at his former rival. “To the people of Kentucky, Rand Paul didn't want you. Now he runs back due to his presidential failure. #VoteTrump #MakeAmericaGreatAgain,” Trump tweeted.
Trump has been rather proud of his ability to “expand” the Republican Party. As The Washington Post reports, “The evidence suggests that more people are identifying as Republicans and more Republicans are voting.” And CNN writes, “A crucial component of Trump’s strength has been his ability to expand the Republican electorate—shattering turnout records in states like Virginia and bringing into the fold ‘Reagan Democrats’ in northern states.” But here’s the thing: The majority of the primaries held so far have been open—voters could just show up regardless of party affiliation and vote. There have only been four closed primaries—in which voters must be registered Republicans to vote—Iowa, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Alaska. Interestingly, among those, Ted Cruz won three (all but tricky hard-to-poll Nevada). So was that a coincidence? Today’s elections should answer that question. All of today’s contests are closed except for Nebraska’s. If Cruz does well, it will be another point in his favor in the ongoing argument over who should be the Trump alternative.
It occurs to me, as the Republican establishment seems to trudge defiantly toward a brokered convention, that perhaps the GOP is once again underestimating Donald Trump. I mean, if anybody is going to flourish in a smoke-filled-backroom-deal-making environment, where shady promises, handshakes, and whispered sidebars determine the results, isn’t it Trump? There’s no better place to fight dirty than in the dark. Advantage: Trump.
Just one day after Mitt Romney’s speech in which he essentially pushed for a contested convention by suggesting that Americans vote for anyone but Trump depending on their state—Kasich in Ohio, Rubio in Florida, Cruz, well, where ever—we are now officially calling it the “Romney Plan” on cable news. As though Mitt Romney invented the idea of a brokered convention and 1976 never happened.
Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting
Welcome to Super Saturday! Which, really, compared with Super Tuesday’s delegate count, should be called “Just OK” Saturday. The Atlantic has your election-coverage needs handled at 2016 Distilled and with our Media Mentions Tracker, Candidate Cheat Sheet, and Gaffe Track. Today, we’ll be following:
Kansas: both parties will caucus
Kentucky: Republican caucus
Louisiana: both parties hold a primary
Maine: the Republicans caucus today and tomorrow the Democrats do
Nebraska: Democratic caucus
On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders has declared he has both the will and the money to stick it out until the convention this summer, meaning that even during presumed nominee Hillary Clinton’s Big Night in Philadelphia, Sanders will be there—riling up the Millenials, jamming to a little Simon and Garfunkel, and talking ’bout a revolution. Meanwhile, Clinton will extol middle-of-the-road compromise and ruthless competence while wearing a smart pantsuit dripping with establishmentarianism.
But not so fast! Don’t expect Clinton to sew up the nomination this weekend. “Just OK” Saturday (and “Squeaky” Sunday) are expected to break Sanders’s way. The senator from Vermont has a serious ground game in Nebraska and Kansas, and a lot of Northeast love should be coming his way in Maine tomorrow. In fact, the momentum Sanders picks up this weekend could add an extra shot of verve to the Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan, tomorrow night.
On the Republican side, it’s another wonderful day in the thunderdome that is the GOP battle to the nomination. After a Thursday-night debate that made Americans everywhere shudder and want to take a shower, former presidential candidate Mitt Romney declared Donald Trump a “phony” and a “fraud” in his adorable, aw-shucks, Ned Flanders way—a civility that really has no place in this particular election. Speaking of civility, Trump continues to shove and elbow his way to the top of the heap—all while throwing African Americans out of public rallies, calling his opponents “Little Marco” and “Lying Ted,” and overplaying the size of his hands: “Look at these hands. Are these small hands?” Then he bailed on CPAC, reversed himself on torture, and added five feet to his imaginary wall. Also, in Wichita, Kansas, people are sleeping out to score seats at the Trump rally, like it’s Metallica or something.
Meanwhile, Ben Carson officially suspended his campaign, but not before—to everyone’s relief—promising, “I’m still going to be heavily involved to save our nation.”
But the big takeaway for the week is that Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich will all support Trump if and when he gets the nomination. This comes after a full-on assault on Trump University, Trump hiring practices, Trump fraud cases, and Trump tanning practices. As my colleague Yoni Applebaum points out, “If they can conceive of voting for Trump themselves, how will they ever convince Trump’s supporters that voting for Trump is unacceptable?” They won’t.
And so, let’s give a warm welcome to our future Canadian readers. Apparently, Americans searched “How Can I Move to Canada?” in record numbers this week, with a 350 percent spike on Super Tuesday. Google execs confirmed: “Searches for ‘Move to Canada’ are higher than at any time in Google history.” (Chart below.) People everywhere are catching on to Trump’s inevitability. After all, in the timeless and prophetic words of the Violent Femmes, “Big hands, I know you’re the one.”