An ebullient Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas emerged from a solid showing against Donald Trump on Saturday in a handful of Republican primaries with a beefed up argument that it is time for rival Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida to exit the campaign.
“We will continue to amass delegates, but what needs to happen is the field needs to continue to narrow,” Cruz told reporters in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, last night after the returns had come in from four other states. “As long as the field remains divided it gives Donald an advantage.”
Cruz whipped Trump in two GOP caucuses in Kansas and Maine, garnering more than four in ten Republicans in both of those contests, while making solid showings in losing efforts against the billionaire businessman in Kentucky and Louisiana. In both of those primaries, Cruz came within three to four percentage points of beating Trump.
Rubio, by contrast, came up empty handed once again, finishing third behind Trump and Cruz in three contests and an embarrassing fourth place finish behind a struggling Ohio Gov. John Kasich in Maine. In nearly 20 primary and caucus outings so far this year, the freshman senator from Florida has won only once – in Minnesota—and may be on course for a second victory on Sunday in Puerto Rico.
A new NBC News/Marist poll released Sunday shows Rubio also trailing badly in Tuesday’s primary election in Michigan, with just 17 percent of the likely Republican vote to 41 percent for Trump and 22 percent for Cruz. The same poll shows former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton leading Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the Democratic contest, 57 percent to 40 percent. Sanders beat Clinton on Saturday in Kansas and Nebraska caucuses, but Clinton won big in Louisiana’s primary and remains far ahead of Sanders in the delegate count.
Cruz and Trump both stepped up their pressure on Rubio to pull out of the race, although Cruz would have more to gain than Trump from narrowing the field further and consolidating conservative forces to try to slow Trump’s march to the GOP presidential nomination.
Cruz, whose campaign has now defeated Trump seven times, including a strong showing on Super Tuesday, warned in an interview with CBS News’ Face the Nation (taped on Friday) that Trump’s nomination would spell the demise of the GOP. He said that he is beginning to pick up support from backers of other failed campaigns, including those of former Florida governor Jeb Bush, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who realize the high stakes for their party.
“If Donald is nominated, it is a catastrophe,” Cruz said. “[Democrat Hillary Clinton] wins, we lose the Supreme Court for a generation, we lose the Bill of Rights and we lose the Senate.”
Trump agrees that it is time for Rubio to drop out of the race and that “I would love to take on Ted Cruz one on one” and that it would be “so much fun.”
During a speech in West Palm Beach, Fla., last night, Trump said that “Marco Rubio had a very, very bad night and personally I’d call for him to drop out of the race,” adding that “I think it’s probably time.”
But Rubio insists he’s in the race to stay – or at least through the critical Florida GOP contest on March 15, when Rubio will wage a last stand in his home state against Trump. Trump is currently leading Rubio in Florida, and is determined to crush him in an escalating feud that has led to some of the most astounding and crude political rhetoric in memory.
“I’ve never based my campaign on one state, but I can tell you this: We will win the state of Florida, we will beat Donald Trump there the way we beat [former governor] Charlie Crist,” Rubio told CNN in an interview that was taped on Friday. “I have experience at beating people who don’t say who they truly are.”
“If you had told me a year ago that the frontrunner at this stage of the Republican campaign would be a supporter of Planned Parenthood, who says he doesn’t stand with Israel, who has a long record of supporting government-sponsored health care, I would say, ‘On what planet would that be the Republican frontrunner?’” he said. “But it’s happened, and I think we have to ask ourselves why would we allow that to happen.”
In advance of yesterday’s votes, Cruz reportedly focused his efforts on Kansas and Maine, which both held caucuses instead of primary votes and provided more fertile ground for Cruz’s more sophisticated ground game and voter targeting system. In Maine, Cruz made a strong appeal to libertarian voters, hoping to attract former supporters of Rand Paul, according to The Washington Post. He shifted to more populist themes in Kansas, where he asserted that working-class voters and single mothers were struggling under the effects of Obamacare.
“The scream you hear, the howl that comes from Washington, D.C., is utter terror at what we the people are doing together,” Cruz said last night while celebrating the primary and caucus results.
The four contests on “Super Saturday” accounted for 155 delegates. Cruz won 64 of them while Trump claimed 40 and Rubio just 13. Rubio was shut out in Louisiana and Maine, where he failed to reach the threshold to qualify. Trump is leading overall in the delegate count in his quest for a minimum of 1,237 needed to secure the party’s nomination.
After the four contests Saturday, Trump appeared to be leading overall with 385 delegates to 298 for Cruz and 126 for Rubio. The Texas Republican says he is in the best position to overtake Trump or at least deny him the nomination outright before Republicans gather in Cleveland in July.
“My focus is very simple,” Cruz said. “It is on winning 1,237 delegates to be the Republican nominee. We are on a path to do so.”