Donald Trump and Ted Cruz split victories on Saturday, with Trump taking Kentucky and Louisiana while Cruz picked up Kansas and Maine. But the two candidates were unusually united in at least one message following the results: Florida Senator Marco Rubio needed to pack his bags and head home.
“Marco Rubio had a very, very bad night and personally I’d call for him to drop out of the race,” Trump said. “I think it’s probably time.”
Cruz went a step further, calling for John Kasich to follow Rubio out the door. “As long as the field remains divided, it gives Donald an advantage,” Cruz said.
Rubio had a terrible night, finishing third in all of the contests except Maine, where he actually managed to come in fourth behind Kasich. Putting aside the battle between Trump and Cruz, Saturday proved once again that Republican voters are in no mood for an establishment candidate. While Rubio still maintains that he will win Florida on March 15, it’s unclear whether there is any foundation for that optimism. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight gives Trump an 88% chance of winning Rubio’s home state, a victory that would spell the certain end for the senator’s campaign.
On Sunday, in an interview with Face the Nation on CBS, Cruz made it clear that he has Trump in his sights. He said that media outlets were holding back much of their anti-Trump ammunition until after he won the nomination.
“I think an awful lot of reporters — I can’t tell you how many media outlets I hear, you know, have this great exposé on Donald, on different aspects of his business dealings or his past, but they said, ‘You know what? We’re going to hold it to June or July,'” Cruz said. “And all of the attacks on Donald that the media is not talking about now, you’d better believe come September, October, November — if he were the nominee — every day on the nightly news would be taking Donald apart.”
Cruz’s prediction is likely to come true, but he misses the fact that the same media will be every bit as vicious if he is the nominee. His brand of evangelical conservatism is loathed by the liberal elite, and he has almost as little support from the Republican establishment as Trump. And unlike Trump, who has been relentlessly hammered by the press since last summer, Cruz has flown relatively far under the radar. Even Dr. Ben Carson had to weather a much more blistering onslaught from the media.
Either way, we should have a very good idea about the future of this race by the middle of the month. The smart money is still on Trump, but Cruz, clearly, is not going down without a fight.