Show of hands: Who woke up this morning expecting that the hottest topic at tonight’s CNN event would involve what Trump thinks about the Pope?
Cruz and Rubio both did well in the first half of the forum. Now the rest of the field — Bush, Trump, and Kasich — gets a shot. You’ll be seeing the last two at the next debate no matter what happens in South Carolina on Saturday night, but you might not be seeing Jeb. At least, you’d better hope not if you’re an anti-Trumper. Nate Cohn did the delegate math and found that if the Rubio/Kasich/Bush skirmish doesn’t produce a “winner” in the next 10 days, it might be game over for the Donald.
On Super Tuesday, March 1, 25 percent of the delegates to the Republican national convention will be awarded. If the mainstream field hasn’t been narrowed by that point, it will become very hard to avoid serious damage to the candidate who ultimately emerges as the party’s anointed favorite. The top mainstream candidate could easily fall more than 100 delegates short of what he might have earned in a winnowed field. He would even be in danger of earning no delegates at all in several of the largest states because of one number: 20 percent.
That’s the threshold for earning delegates in Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Vermont, which combine to award 57 percent of the delegates on Super Tuesday and 14 percent of all of the delegates in the Republican race. If candidates don’t get 20 percent of the vote, they get no delegates (unless they finish in the top two of a congressional district, in which case they get a delegate). Oklahoma and Arkansas, worth an additional 13 percent of Super Tuesday delegates, have a 15 percent threshold.
The longer the battle for the center-right drags on, the greater the chance that that vote will split evenly among Rubio, Bush, and Kasich, holding one or all of them under the threshold and denying each of them crucial delegates they’d need to beat Trump in the long run. But it gets worse, per Cohn: Not only will a candidate receive no delegates if he fails to clear a state’s threshold, his delegates will be split among the candidates who do clear the threshold. That means Trump and (possibly) Cruz. The center-right war could actually turbo-power Trump on his path to the nomination by handing him delegates he wouldn’t otherwise win. If you’re in the “Anybody But Trump” camp, you need someone, preferably multiple candidates, to go home after SC. Kasich’s probably not going anywhere since he has his eye on Ohio and Michigan, but he may be a small enough factor in the SEC primary that his vote total doesn’t much affect the others. Carson and, in all likelihood, Bush should be on life support come Sunday morning, though. If they don’t pull the plug, Cruz may be the last hope of beating Trump. And given his numbers in his “stronghold” in South Carolina this week, that hope seems thin.
While we wait, via the IJ Review, here’s Ben Sasse reading some hate tweets from Trump fans, all of which are about 85 percent more mild than the average hate tweet on Twitter.