There are only two real storylines out of Tuesday night’s SEC primary: 1. Trump is on a roll and more likely than not, on a path to the GOP nomination; and 2. there is no consensus alternative to Trump. Here are my four quick takeaways for what Super Tuesday means going forward.
1. The #NeverTrump movement isn’t working. Despite aggressive - and at times manic - attacks on Trump by Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, the billionaire businessman still managed to rack up wins in at least seven of the 11 states that voted Tuesday. Maybe the onslaught on Trump came too late. Maybe Trump is immune to the attacks. Perhaps it’s a little bit of both. However, I would argue that a big reason why the #NeverTrump movement is failing is because it fails to offer any vision or message beyond the negative. Cruz and Rubio have laid out all the reasons Trump isn’t fit to lead the GOP, but they’ve failed to make a persuasive case for why either of them should be the nominee. It’s not enough to dissuade someone from supporting your opponent if you can’t give them a reason to support you.
2. Marco Rubio is the night’s biggest loser. Yes, he can say he won a state (Minnesota). Yes, Cruz should have done better tonight than he did. But, at the end of the night, Rubio came in third place almost everywhere else. The fact that Rubio lost Virginia, a state that is tailor-made for a candidate with his profile, was a particularly harsh blow. It is really hard to see how he wins his home state of Florida. Whatever hope the Rubio team had of becoming the consensus Trump alternative died last night.
3. Delegate math is hard. The only silver lining, if there is any, for those who don’t want to see Trump as the nominee is that Trump has not technically “sewed up” the nomination. The March 15 winner-take-all states will ultimately decide if Trump wins the nomination outright or if the race remains inevitably splintered and leads to a contested convention. However, a non-Trump candidate would need to win Ohio and Florida, which seems unlikely from where we sit now.
4. The Clinton team should not be over-confident about facing Trump this fall. The most recent polling has Hillary Clinton with a comfortable lead over Trump in head-to-head match-ups. However, as we have seen throughout this primary season, Trump looks a lot easier to beat on paper then he is in reality. Moreover, we saw a pivot tonight from Trump to the general election with what is likely to become a standard line of attack against Clinton this fall: she was part of what caused the problems, which means she can't be part of what fixes them. If eight years of Obama hasn’t “fixed” the economy and the lives of middle-class Americans, how will someone who has been in politics for the last 25 years offer a better solution? Clinton had better have a strong, substantive and believable answer to that question going forward. If she doesn’t, Trump will exploit it to his benefit.
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