The votes are in and counted, and the 11 Super Tuesday states on the Republican side have held their primaries or caucuses. Over on the Democratic side, the results are fairly clear: a firm, if uncomfortably narrow, win for Hillary Clinton, the front runner, precisely as expected. For the Republicans, though, the results are less clear.
Donald Drumpf, the front runner and expected runaway winner on Super Tuesday, took 7 of the 11 states, and for that has been widely acclaimed as the winner in the media. Although no campaign would pass on winning states if they could, there’s something else at play: which states and by how much. Drumpf took Alabama (50 delegates, of which he took 36), Arkansas (40 delegates, of which he took 16), Georgia (40 of 76), Massachusetts (22 of 42), Tennessee (31 of 58), Vermont (8 of 16), and Virginia (17 of 35), giving him a total predicted delegate haul of 241 delegates. That’s impressive, but it’s less than half of the 595 delegates at play on Super Tuesday.
Drumpf’s disappointing finish came at the hands of a surprisingly strong showing from Ted Cruz. Cruz won the Alaska caucuses, where polling had shown him far behind, won Oklahoma, bettering his poll numbers by a shocking 14 percentage points, and won Texas with just under the 50% threshold needed to make the state winner-take-all but still 101 of the state’s monstrous 155-delegate haul. He consistently placed second in the states he didn’t win, earning him the second highest delegate total of the night with 222, a whisker behind Drumpf.
Marco Rubio, the most marginal of the serious candidates remaining, had a big night in one sense because, after 15 contests, he finally managed to win a state (Minnesota), but overall he remained a very distant third with 106 delegates and only two second-place finishes. Nonetheless, despite his delegate total being far behind the candidates with a chance of winning the nomination, his delegates combined with Cruz’s (neither of the vanity candidates won any significant delegates) are a majority. For the first time since New Hampshire, the anti-Drumpf faction now has more delegates than Drumpf, and is in extremely good position to defeat him in a nomination fight at the convention.
Indeed, so crushing was Drumpf’s defeat that he narrowly avoided not just losing to the anti-Drumpf faction today, but falling behind in the overall delegate count. In Texas Cruz took 101 of 155 delegates, rather than all 155, because he was unable to reach 50% statewide or in every congressional district. Had Rubio’s voters simply stayed home or abstained, Cruz would have reached the 50% threshold statewide and in 33 of 36 congressional districts, giving him 152 delegates to Drumpf’s 3. That would have made the Super Tuesday totals Cruz 273, Drumpf 193, and Rubio 104 (Rubio only gained 6 Texas delegates as it was). The overall delegate count would have been Cruz 290, Drumpf 274, and Rubio 120. Drumpf very narrowly missed being beaten so badly that his delegate lead disappeared entirely. Once the pressure on Rubio to come to grips with his status as a distant third-place finisher rises and he’s forced to set his hubris aside and drop out, Cruz will begin to gain more and more traction.
Even more encouraging, Oklahoma showed what happens in closed primaries. In the open primaries and caucuses, Drumpf had largely lived up to his poll numbers. In Oklahoma, though, where Democrats were not allowed to cross over and vote in the Republican primary, Drumpf dropped 6 percentage points from his polling, Rubio rose 4 percentage points, and Cruz shot up a jaw-dropping 14 percentage points to take a commanding win. Drumpf’s failure to win without his crossover Democrats indicates that the the closed-primary winner-take-all states, including Florida (50 delegates) and California (172 delegates, and Cruz has a double-digit polling lead at present), may prove an insurmountable problem for Drumpf. If Cruz continues to outperform the polls in closed primaries, he won’t just force a brokered convention, he’ll win outright.
When pundits look back at the race months from now, they’ll say that it was March 1st that Drumpf’s facade finally started to break. Cruz demonstrated that even with Rubio and the vanity candidates muddying the waters, he can still nearly match Drumpf, and once the race narrows to a one-on-one between the Texas senator and the New York philanderer, it will be over in all but name for Drumpf’s latest publicity stunt.