By Dave Andrusko
As we watched the tenth Republican presidential debate last night, from the very beginning I couldn’t help but wonder how many “5” or “10” takeaway articles would already be written half-way through the contentious debate.
How could there not be a flurry when (a) it is the last time Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fl.), Sen. Ted Cruz (Tx.), Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson would be on the same stage before next week’s “Super Tuesday” electoral blitz; and (b) when Sen. Rubio made it abundantly clear he was ready to press the case for his candidacy and what he argues are Mr. Trump’s weaknesses, to a new level.
I listened and read last night to assessments, and listened and read even more analyses today. However, if we’ve learned anything this cycle, it’s that voters, even more than usual, are perfectly content to ignore the media consensus.
So, in no particular order…of course no one knows how much what was universally agreed to be Sen. Rubio’s best debate performance will change the dynamics of Super Tuesday in which Republicans will hold (mostly) primaries in 12 states, mostly in the South. What we can say is that the aura of inevitability that many in the media had attributed to Mr. Trump’s eventual nomination has been clouded but by no means erased.
However the real question is less whether Sen. Rubio or Sen. Cruz can win more delegates in four days than previously thought than whether the political calculus surrounding March 15 is substantially altered by what happened in Houston, Texas, last night and in next week’s Republican debate.
As Elaine C. Kamarck wrote this morning
[T]he Republican race will change dramatically on March 15. On that day, five big states – Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio — will hold primaries, and all but one will be either winner-take-all or some sort of hybrid system that could also yield a winner-take-all outcome. These five states (and one territory also voting that day) account for 367 delegates – many of which, again, could go in a lump sum to one candidate — while the 12 states voting on Super Tuesday account for 624 – and will, again, be divvied up proportionally. In other words, March 15 could feasibly see a bigger swing than March 1.
What else? Each debate, each constellation of states is different. Sen. Rubio was blasted for his showing in the New Hampshire debate and lauded for last night’s vigorous exchanges. You would anticipate that his learning curve will continue, but you can’t know that any more than you can predict how Mr. Trump and Sen. Cruz will respond over the next two weeks.
And, of course, it’s anyone’s guess what Gov. Kasich will do. Along with Dr. Carson, he was rarely called on last night, meaning both had little to no chance to add to their support.
The pressure on them to drop out could be enormous.