There was plenty to take away from the Republican presidential primary results last night. Donald Trump won big in Michigan and Mississippi, the two biggest states on the ballot, and he took the victory in Hawaii, too. John Kasich remained viable, and with a victory in Idaho, Ted Cruz can still plausibly claim that he remains the best anti-Trump candidate left in the field.
But the real news is that with his home state primary only a week away, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio looks like a dead candidate walking.
Michigan and Mississippi were the two biggest prizes on the Republican ballot Tuesday, with 59 and 40 delegates, respectively. Both states require a candidate to collect a minimum of 15 percent of the statewide vote to earn any delegates at all, and as the fourth-place finisher in a field of four in both states, Rubio wasn’t even within shouting distance of the cutoff in either.
In Idaho, Rubio managed 16 percent of the vote, but the threshold there is 20 percent, so in terms of delegates, he came up empty again. In Hawaii, it appears possible that Rubio might eke out a single delegate, with his third-place finish. But just a week away from his home-state winner-take-all primary, that will be cold comfort.
Rubio’s performance last night will intensify calls from other GOP candidates – particularly Cruz – for him to drop out of the race entirely.
To many, the suggestion that a sitting senator from Florida should drop out before his state awards its 99 delegates in a winner-take-all contest may seem ridiculous. But the truth is that Rubio has been polling behind Trump in his home state for months, and can only expect to see his numbers deteriorate after last night.
The odds are now against him winning Florida at all, and if he remains in the race, the votes he takes from Ohio Gov. John Kasich could help Trump take the Buckeye state on Tuesday as well.
To GOP strategists, the timing is crucial, especially given Trump’s performance last night. At this point in the race, for anyone in the GOP hoping to forestall a first-ballot Trump victory at the convention, a winner-take-all triumph in either Ohio or Florida next Tuesday is unthinkable.
Victories in Ohio and Florida, though themselves not determinative of the GOP nomination, would give Trump a nearly insurmountable delegate lead – one possibly large enough to guarantee him a first-ballot nomination at the Republican convention in July.
As of Wednesday morning, it’s safe to assume that the calls for Rubio to fall on his sword for the good of the party will be coming from every direction. And, at least from a strategic perspective, they will be hard to ignore.
NOTE: This story was updated Wednesday morning to reflect more complete election returns.