As I write, the Real Clear Politics average of polls for the coming Florida Republican primary puts Trump at 44.7, Rubio second with 26.0, and Cruz third with 12.3. Kasich comes in last with a dismal 8.3.
It is do-or-die for Rubio. If he does not win his home state, he will either be forced to drop out or stay in the race only with the hope that his delegates combined with the other Trump opponents’ would be enough to stop Trump at the Republican National Convention. If that were to happen, a brokered convention could result. Brokered conventions used to be common, and voting could go on for endless rounds until a candidate reached the magic number.
Florida is going to be a competitive race. Trump is still ahead, Cruz has intensified his game there, and Rubio will leave no stone unturned to win. Perhaps Rubio’s landslide win of 74 percent in Puerto Rico will be the boost he desperately needs. According to RCP’s Washington bureau chief, Carl M. Cannon: “Rubio’s small victory here sets the stage for a possible pivotal victory in his home state.” He most likely already has the support of the Cuban-American community as well as centrist GOP voters. A large vote for him among Puerto Ricans living in Florida could be the final bloc of votes he needs to push him above Trump. Other political observers dispute this, and argue that Rubio is headed for an embarrassing loss.
A March 7 poll from Monmouth University shows Rubio catching up to Trump in Florida. Trump is still ahead at 38 to 30, but this represents a climb for Rubio from February polls, and many late and undecided voters might be breaking for Rubio rather than Trump.
Kasich’s chances of winning Ohio look better than Rubio’s chances in Florida. Currently there is no new RCP average of polls for Ohio, but the last poll, taken in mid-February, had Kasich at 26 and Trump at 31. Most political analysts are saying Kasich has quickly been making up the gap, and that he is now likely even with or ahead of Trump. If he does manage to take Ohio and Rubio pulls it off in Florida, together they would give the anti-Trump forces a big boost.
The big question is which Republican candidate polls best against Hillary Clinton. The RCP general election average of matchup polls shows Donald Trump losing to Clinton by 3.4, still within the margin of error. Cruz beats Clinton by a spread of 1.5, Rubio beats Clinton by 5.0, and Kasich has the biggest spread of all: he would win against Clinton by 7.4.
If the GOP actually wants to occupy the White House, their best bet is either Rubio or Kasich. Trump remains unpopular to the nation as a whole, and as Jonathan Last writes, Trump is actually much weaker than he looks at first glance. He has won less than half of the delegates, and at the rate he is winning, he won’t be able to reach the 1,237 delegate count:
His total take of the popular vote on Super Tuesday was about … 36 percent. Which was enough to win, but shows that he hasn’t grown his coalition, even with his frontrunner status having been “normalized.”
At present, anti-Trump Republicans are thinking that an ascendant Ted Cruz might be the best choice to win the nomination when pitted against Trump. The problem is that in the general election, Cruz’s base of conservative Republicans and evangelicals would not be enough to win against Clinton. He would lose the very swing states he needs, as well as the East Coast and West Coast.
Both Trump and Cruz want Rubio to drop out, but he certainly won’t do it before the Florida winner-take-all primary. And even if he loses, he may choose to stay in. In the end, the delegate count of Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich together may be enough to deprive Trump of the nomination. At that point there could actually be a brokered convention, and despite his obvious desire to run, the convention will not turn to Mitt Romney.
That leaves the possibility of a Kasich-Rubio ticket. First, it would give the GOP both Florida and Ohio on Election Day. Both are popular with the general electorate, and could have a real chance of beating Hillary and whomever she picks as a running mate. That would especially be the case if she decides to make Elizabeth Warren her VP choice, fearing the defection of Sanders’ left wing.
So if the Republican voters truly want to defeat Hillary Clinton and win a national election, they should contemplate a Kasich-Rubio ticket. If such a ticket emerges, Trump will most likely bolt from the GOP and run as an independent, taking his followers with him. Such a move will probably destroy the Republican Party as we know it and ensure that Hillary Clinton will be the next president. But if Trump is the Republican nominee, she will win anyway.
Of course I could be wrong, but why not gaze into my own crystal ball? Everyone else is.