Paths to the nomination: Trump, Cruz, and Rubio

The problem with professional political commentators is that they are easily distracted by the things that make for “fireworks” when you’re trying to write or report on a subject — people fighting, making gaffes, saying outrageous things. A candidate simply stating his platform and message to voters seems unbelievably boring, because we have already heard it a hundred times on the campaign trail. Nothing new to us, nothing exciting, so therefore: nothing. From this perspective, Trump looks like he’s at the center of everything that’s happening. But it’s likely that our perspective differs from that of the average voter.

My own suspicion is that the “fireworks” tend to dominate before actual primary voting begins, because voters are paying so little attention that these are the only stories they see. But as voters begin to pay more attention, they are more reachable by the actual substance of a candidate’s ideas and character. It’s a factor that will work against Trump and in favor of Rubio.

You may reply that this means Rubio is relying on a miracle. On the other hand, it would be very unusual if several wings of the Republican Party — the more ideological, the establishment, and the moderates — were to have nobody to represent them in the final matchup. If you posit a two-man race between Cruz and Trump, you’re assuming that at least one quarter of the party is just going to be sitting this out. I think it’s much more likely that they will find a candidate to rally around, and Rubio is by far in the best position to be that candidate.

I could be wrong, but I see three leading candidates with three paths to the nomination. Each has elements that are plausible and elements that are implausible, and we’ll get our first solid evidence about which ones are actually realistic in a little more than a week.