Whoever’s behind between him and Rubio, he means. Cruz is cagey in his answer, saying that someone who hasn’t won a state — hint hint — and is way behind in delegates, with no path to the nomination, should obviously drop out and help unify the party. But Rubio won’t be “way behind” Cruz in delegates even if Cruz has a good night tonight. Rubio’s got a shot at finally getting on the board by winning Minnesota, too. There’s even a chance, if he overperforms in Texas and finishes second, ahead of Cruz, across most of the south that he’ll pass Cruz in the delegate count. That’s really what Beck’s asking him here — will you, Ted Cruz, consider dropping out if Rubio looks like he’s the stronger candidate among conservatives tomorrow? Because as much as I’d prefer Cruz to Rubio, it’s quite plausible as the race moves north and west that he’ll begin to finish behind Rubio reliably. He’s ahead of Rubio now only because these are the states where Cruz was supposed to clean up. Cruz was supposed to be far ahead of the field at this point and preparing to protect his lead as the campaign moved into less evangelical, less conservative states. Instead he’ll be far behind Trump come morning, and Trump’s a better match for the blue and purple primary electorates to come.
Politico calls it “judgment day” for Cruz. He should win Texas, but with nothing close to the 50 percent threshold he’d need to meet to claim all of the state’s delegates and put a real dent in Trump’s overall lead.
“South Carolina, for me, was the linchpin, where I realized, ‘OK, we won Iowa and that was sweet, we kicked [Trump’s] ass, now the air of inevitability, take that off,’” said the donor who heard the Cruz team’s pitch in Park City and bought into it. “South Carolina was the first test, and it didn’t go well. I mean, it went about as badly as you could have imagined.”…
[W]hen [the Cruz campaign] hatched its Southern strategy a year ago, no one predicted that there would be another candidate who would better tap into the fierce anti-Washington sentiment that Cruz spent his first years in the Senate owning.
“At the time when we constructed this nearly a year ago, we were not going to be opposite of Donald Trump, it was going to be opposite the establishment candidate,” the Cruz adviser said. “None of us ever thought, with one quarter of the delegates cast, there would be a nominee. What we believed this night would be was us versus the establishment candidate, the establishment field would narrow, we would have narrowed the conservative field.”
“This happened,” the source continued. “Plus Donald Trump.”
Right. Cruz’s bet was that Jeb Bush or some Bush-like figure would emerge as frontrunner, as they always did in the past, and then he’d run as the Trumpian populist insurgent. Once Trump got in and proved durable, that strategy was tweaked: Fine, Trump will collect the third of the party that isn’t conservative or very religious, but Cruz’s base of evangelicals and tea partiers will deal Trump one defeat after another in the early southern states. Trump will fade at that point and then Cruz will wage war against whoever’s holding the establishment votes in the party. In reality, Trump has beaten Cruz repeatedly among evangelical and conservative voters (“very conservative” voters are more evenly split or tend to tilt towards Cruz). His entire theory of the race, that the GOP’s southern base would reject Trump, has been debunked. He’s got nowhere to go. I’ll vote for him anyway, but I’m under no illusions about where this is headed.
Which is not to say that Rubio’s a much stronger bet than Cruz is. You could argue, as some have, that Cruz is a better bet to unite the anti-Trump wing of the party than Rubio is. Cruz can hold onto some populist votes that Rubio, per his immigration record, can’t. Cruz is also far more likely to win his home state of Texas tonight than Rubio is to win Florida on March 15th. (FiveThirtyEight gives Cruz an 88 percent chance of victory on his home field versus just 33 percent for Rubio on his.) In fact, depending on how things go tonight, I wonder if Beck won’t rethink his “everybody out of the pool” cry for unity tomorrow morning. Unity is a good strategy for anti-Trumpers if you think there’s a decent chance of the sole survivor beating him in a head-to-head race. The slimmer that chance looks — and I think it’s awfully slim, even if the sole survivor is Rubio — the more you should actually want Cruz and Rubio to stay in and horde as many votes as they can on the right to try to deny Trump a majority of delegates before the convention. I don’t think that would stop him either, as the GOP wouldn’t dare deny him the nomination if he ended up with a near-majority before Cleveland, but you’d have a better shot than if Cruz dropped out and his voters split between Rubio and Trump, pushing Trump closer to 50 percent.
Since movement conservatives are in full #NeverTrump mode this week, here’s a thought for you: Will Ted Cruz join the NeverTrumpers? He told CNN on Sunday that he’d support whoever the nominee is, period, end of story, but it’s hard to square that with what he tells Beck near the end here about Trump being a “manifest disaster.” Why the hell would you vote for a guy if you feel he’d wreck the country? On the other hand, Trump and the GOP establishment — who will soon be formally, rather than merely informally, aligned — will find Cruz potentially a very valuable asset in trying to thwart the rejectionist impulse among conservatives. If anyone can convince anti-Trump righties to bite the bullet and pull the lever for the GOP, it’s Cruz. Trump would owe him for that. Some Twitter pals are convinced that Cruz, true to form, will go rogue once he’s no longer a candidate and decide to lead the anti-Trump resistance in Congress, but I think that misunderstands who Cruz really is. He’s a natural triangulator. In the past he’s triangulated between hawks and doves but it’s easy to imagine him shifting in a Trump-run GOP to triangulate between conservatives and Trumpists. See, for example, his flip-flop on TPA. I’ll be the first to applaud Cruz if he digs in for conservatism against Trump, but as Marco Rubio once said, he’s a very calculating individual. If he calculates that the party’s taken a Trumpist turn that’s unlikely to be corrected eight months from now, he’ll adapt. The question is what that adaptation will look like.