Could Donald Trump be stopped if either Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio drop out of the race? It is certainly starting to look like the only chance—although I have less certitude than others do that it will work. Assuming that Republican voters will move rationally and orderly to your preferred reality is a really bad way to think about this cycle.
There are three questions that matter if either one calls it quits, and neither has indicated he will: 1) Which one of the two would fare better head-to-head against Trump in the primaries? 2) Which one would bleed fewer supporters to Trump? 3) Which one would be stronger in the general election?
According to RCP averages, both Rubio and Cruz lead Hillary in a prospective match-up—with the former doing better. Setting aside ideological and policy differences, my own perception is that Rubio would run a stronger race in a general election, especially when juxtaposed against Hillary. Even then, considering the demographic shifts in Florida and Virginia, it would be tough. Still, it’s indisputable that Democrats fear Rubio most.
Another perception I have (and something that would be hard to demonstrate from unreliable exit polling) is that Cruz supporters would be more liable to gravitate towards the more strident messaging of Trump than to Rubio’s bright-eyed second-generation Reaganism. But when you consider how many “moderate” types Trump has pulled in the races so far, this observation could be all wrong.
For what it’s worth, an MSNBC poll has both candidates basically trading supporters, though this is before Jeb backed out. And it seems intuitive for Jeb supporters to move to Rubio despite the candidates’ recent animosity.
It’s worth remembering, though, that national polls don’t really matter in primaries; state polls do. Is there any evidence that either Cruz or Rubio are sure shots to win SEC states from Trump because they run solo? What about in blue states? The Cook Report seems to think only Rubio can play:
By our math, Trump would need to win 246 of the available 624 delegates on Super Tuesday to be “on pace” for 1,237, while Rubio would need just 191. But to come close to that number, Rubio will have to prove he can meet tough viability thresholds in southern states like Texas and Georgia (where he will need 20 percent of the vote to be eligible to win statewide delegates), as well as show strength among more moderate Republican voters in places like Massachusetts and Vermont.
If one or the other drops out, the contender will meet eligibility. Texas is competitive (though who knows?). Florida right now is trending strongly for Trump. Blue states—I can’t find any recent polling for many of them—seem to be mostly Trump-leaning, with, it seems, little chance that someone as conservative as Cruz is viable even with Rubio’s support.
The best plan of action, of course, would be, as Jonah Goldberg laid out, a unity ticket. After all, if one of the two was dropping out anyway, there’s really no reason it shouldn’t happen at this point. Far more than an endorsement, a ticket would allay the concerns of supporters. How likely could it be after all the bad blood? Well, it wouldn’t be unique. There were hard feelings between Reagan and the man who coined the phrase “voodoo economics,” George H.W. Bush. The promise of power heals all wounds.
Without unity, maybe conservatives should want all the candidates—and let’s face it, if you’re still supporting Kasich or Carson at this point, you’re irrational enough to back Trump—to stay in the race and hope (pray) that the remaining Republicans split enough delegates to necessitate a brokered convention.