There were several winners of Tuesday night’s Nevada caucuses. Let us take the time to celebrate each of them.
Sen. Ted Cruz had a massive “third-place win,” a term his campaign actually relayed to reporters, on the record, intending for it to be published. This third-place win, per the Cruz campaign, marked an absolutely dominating victory over second-place loser Sen. Marco Rubio. “Nevada, Rubio’s Firewall: The Place Where He Would Win Big,” read the alert from the Cruz campaign Tuesday night. It is true that the Rubio campaign had pointed some months ago to Nevada as the early state where their guy had the strongest chance of winning. What a devastating silver medal it was, then, to Cruz’s victory bronze.
But what if Rubio, too, is the secret winner? It didn’t take long for the Nevada results to start trickling in before Rubio’s team was getting him booked on the morning chat show circuit to describe his Nevada conquest.
Take a lap, Marco, and slap some fives. You may not have anything close to an old-fashioned “first-place victory” under your belt yet, and in no contest have you bested Donald Trump. But that’s all going to change soon when the intimidating streak of second- and third-place finishes you rack up on Super Tuesday forces Cruz, who may actually win a very large state on March 1, to drop out. After all, as you said Wednesday morning on Fox News, “you don’t win the nomination by how many states you win."
That’s particularly great news for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who finished in fifth place in the Nevada caucuses, pummeling Rubio in the for-pretend game that Kasich’s campaign is playing. “Contrary to what his campaign is trying to portray,” the statement from Kasich campaign manager John Weaver read, “Senator Rubio just endured another disappointing performance despite being the highest spending candidate in Nevada. He also missed an opportunity to back up the notion that he can bring new people into the Republican Party or succeed above expectations in a diverse state.” Fair, but come on: Isn’t it a little crass for the fifth-place winner to be rubbing it in so nastily to the second-place loser? At least give the guy who finished 20 percentage points ahead of you a couple of days to recuperate before mocking him.
It is no surprise that these losers, who are losing now more than ever, would write up their post-Nevada statements in such a loser-ish manner. After South Carolina, the campaigns of Rubio, Cruz, and Kasich largely focused on trashing each other rather than going after the guy at the top with all the votes. (Cruz being the occasional exception.) Where did this get them? Further entrenched in their beliefs that none of them need to drop out anytime soon, and now 20-plus points behind Donald Trump as a field rather than 10 percentage points behind, as they were in South Carolina. The only candidate making progress is Trump, and none of the other candidates seem particularly concerned about that.
But surely the well-heeled donors within the Republican establishment who are scared of Trump running away with this thing will take care of him while the non-Trump candidates sort themselves out, right? Nope. And nope in large part because they’re scared that Donald Trump will call them mean names. These donors, Politico reported earlier this week, “worry that, if they fund higher-profile attacks, they could come under attack from Trump, who this week fired a warning shot at one of the few major donors to the anti-Trump efforts, Marlene Ricketts, tweeting that her family ‘better be careful, they have a lot to hide!’ ”
The will to stop Trump does not appear to exist, and that is pathetic. Far too many party forces are misreading the “winnowing” theory, which argues that Trump can be defeated if he is positioned in a one-on-one matchup. I think there’s merit to this theory, though less so with each passing contest and day crossed off the calendar. What this theory never entailed, though, is the idea that Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich would let Trump proceed unimpeded while they were sorting the anti-Trump process out among themselves. It is campaign malpractice for the Rubio campaign, in particular, to be holding its fire on Trump, and it’s indicative of that campaign’s glib belief that delegates will naturally funnel Rubio’s way in the long run because … because they just will.
There is a debate Thursday night, the final one before Trump is projected to pick up another eight to 10 states next Tuesday. If the non-Trump candidates spend the full two hours laser-focused on attacking Trump, then maybe there’s some hope for the diminishing anti-Trump contingent of the party after all. If they conduct this debate in their usual manner, with Trump chilling at his dais while Rubio and Cruz bicker into the void about Senate votes from 2013, the GOP establishment might as well throw its remaining heft behind Trump to curry favor with him before he takes control of the party.