Senator Ted Cruz scored decisive wins in the Kansas and Maine caucuses on Saturday, demonstrating his enduring appeal among conservatives as he tried to reel in Donald J. Trump’s significant lead in the Republican presidential race.I don't know if I agree that "the Texas senator’s wins" are "sure to energize the anti-Trump forces," given the fact that many of the anti-Trump forces hate Cruz, too (although some, like Lindsey Graham, seem to warming to the idea of holding their noses and voting for Cruz). The favorite of many (most?) anti-Trumpites, Marco Rubio, had a terrible day yesterday, as Martin tells us:
Mr. Trump contained Mr. Cruz’s advances by winning in Louisiana and Kentucky. But the Texas senator’s wins were sure to energize the anti-Trump forces who are desperately trying to stop Mr. Trump’s march to the nomination, and they left little doubt that Mr. Cruz, who has now captured six states, is their best hope.
The results on Saturday represented another stinging setback for Mr. Rubio. He finished a distant third in Kansas, Kentucky and Louisiana, and was fourth in Maine.Politico tells us that a poll commissioned by the anti-Trump group Our Principles PAC has Rubio trailing Trump by only 5 in Florida, but I don't believe it; Trump has led every public poll of Florida since August, and in all the ones conducted since mid-November Trump has led by double digits.
Mr. Rubio ... has an increasingly narrow path and is confronting the prospect of a humiliating loss in his own state next week.
So what happened yesterday? We know one reason Cruz did well: Even before yesterday's contests, it was noted that Cruz does very well in closed contests -- those in which only Republicans can vote -- while Trump does better in contests open to anyone, or at least to independents. Yesterday's Republican contests were all closed; Cruz won two, and he lost Louisiana and Kentucky by only 3 and 4 points, respectively. (I also wonder if Cruz got a large proportion of Ben Carson's vote.)
But what happened to Rubio? It's not just that he lost the way he always loses; he's facing fewer opponents, yet his vote percentages are going down. In earlier contests -- Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee -- his percentage was in the 20s (or, in Virginia and Minnesota, the 30s). Last night, with far less competition, he couldn't break out of the teens.
Maybe Rubio is another candidate who, like Trump, does worse when the field is limited to registered Republicans -- although he hasn't done very well in any contest (except the open Minnesota caucus, which he won)
It's odd, because just last Monday Gallup was telling us that Rubio has much higher favorable ratings among Republicans and Republican leaners than Trump or Cruz:
Ted Cruz's and Donald Trump's images among Republicans have dropped to all-time lows in recent days.... Cruz's net favorable rating among Republicans is now +14, his lowest to date and essentially the same as Trump's +15. Marco Rubio's image is less positive than it has been at previous points in the campaign, but at +34, it is the same as in early January. Rubio's net favorable score is now twice as high as the scores of either of his major two competitors.Rubio is strong among "Republican identifiers," Gallup says. They couldn't vote yesterday. But he also does well with women, conservatives, those who are religious, and the college educated. Why aren't they voting for him?
I think there are two groups of Rubio non-voters. One group just hates him. Here's a post by George Rasley, editor of Richard Viguerie's ConservativeHQ.com. It appeared just after Super Tuesday:
Much as the Republican establishment would like to present Senator Marco Rubio as a viable alternative to Donald Trump his candidacy is a non-starter for a huge percentage of grassroots conservatives who are simply not going to vote for a candidate who has the same position on amnesty for illegal aliens that Hillary Clinton has and wholeheartedly supported Obama’s failed policies in the Middle East.Other GOP voters may like Rubio somewhat, but they're friendzoning him -- whatever you want in a presidential candidate, someone else seems to do it in a more appealing way. Cruz is more defiantly religious. Trump hates Hillary Clinton more. Rubio's policies are more neo-conservative, but both Trump and Cruz sound tougher. And Kasich, despite his schlumpiness, sounds more passionate when he talks about governing responsibly, for the dwindling number of Republicans to whom that matters. Rubio struggles to be the first choice in any category.
... Marco Rubio['s] views on amnesty for illegal aliens, same-sex marriage and the cultural issues represent a tiny RINO minority in the Republican electorate.
Were Cruz to drop out and leave the field to Marco Rubio polls suggest few of his votes would actually go to Rubio – they’d go to Trump or be off the table entirely as cultural conservatives found it impossible to hold their noses and vote for a candidate whose lifestyle has strayed so far from the principles of Biblical living.
Whereas Cruz may not be liked by nearly as many people, but he inspires more loyalty because he's a more dogmatically consistent Trump. Trump's success has proved that a lot of conservatives don't care about fealty right-wing dogma, but I think it still matters to some voters, and they're with Cruz.
That's why I agree with the title of George Rasley's post: "Memo to GOP Establishment: Ted Cruz is the Best Deal You’re Going to Get from Conservatives." If there's a brokered convention and the party manages to deny Trump the nomination, I think Cruz would be acceptable to the base (even though Cruz rejects the brokered convention idea). The Trumpites would recognize that he's also willing to burn everything down. The social conservatives would see him as one of their own.
By contrast, I think a Rubio pick would tear the party apart. Rubio is liked somewhat by a lot of people, but the only passion he inspires is negative. And that would cause the split.