Road No. 2: Trump beats Cruz, and Rubio does poorly
Get your Drudge Sirens ready. If Trump not only wins but blows out the competition, with both Cruz and “savior” Rubio flopping, Monday will be one of the most famous days in American political history.3 Although there might be some hope of anointing a new savior in New Hampshire — Bush, Kasich or Christie — other party elites might begin to capitulate toward Trump, as is already happening to some degree.
Could Trump get off to an extremely strong start, winning the first several states along with most of those in the “SEC Primary” on March 1, only to fail later on? Well, perhaps. The GOP calendar backloads a lot of winner-take-all or winner-take-most primaries in blue and purple states into April and beyond, so Trump could emerge with huge amounts of momentum but not be anywhere close to mathematically clinching the nomination. To some extent, we’d be in uncharted territory, since a Trump-like candidate has never gotten off to such a strong start before. But for Trump to lose, someone would have to beat him, and if both Cruz and Rubio blew their chances, it’s hard to know which candidate that would be. In my view, it would be safe to say that Trump had become the odds-on favorite to win the nomination, but where he’d fall on the spectrum between 51 percent and 99 percent I’m not sure.
You might notice I’ve pulled a little trick there, however, presuming a “blowout win” for Trump when that wouldn’t necessarily be the case. Suppose Rubio did badly, but Trump only narrowly beat Cruz. Would that make a difference? My guess is that it wouldn’t make a lot of difference — a Trump win is a Trump win — unless the vote were so close that (as in 2012) the outcome was uncertain well after midnight.