By Hastings Wyman –
When New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie endorsed Donald Trump last week, it was the icing on the cake. It was Marco Rubio who was supposed to bring on the headline endorsements, as the more mainstream also-rans coalesced behind an alternative to Trump, so long as it isn’t ideologically rigid Ted Cruz, who is even more unpopular than Trump with the Republican establishment. But alas for the mainstreamers and moderates, Christie was the first big name to drop, and it dropped on Trump, giving him a hitherto unavailable entrée into the old-line GOP.
After racking up victories in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, Trump is poised to all-but run the table of the 12 state primaries on March 1. He will probably come in second in Texas, but get some of the delegates by holding homeboy Cruz to less than 50%.
After Tuesday, Trump will be virtually unstoppable. His Super Tuesday wins will give him even more momentum as he competes in North Carolina on March 8 and Florida on March 15. Trump is already leading in both states. About the only thing that is likely to put Florida, a winner-take-all state, in Rubio’s column would be an endorsement from Jeb Bush and his influential family. And that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.
The Bloomberg Poll of Southern Republicans in the so-called SEC primaries showed Trump with 37%, Rubio 20%, Cruz 20%, Ben Carson 8% and John Kasich 6%. The poll was taken Feb. 22-24 and does not reflect the momentum Trump received from his Nevada caucus victory on Feb. 24. Trump gained five points nationwide, says Rasmussen Reports, following his win in South Carolina, while Rubio’s narrow second place gained him nothing. Texas aside, numerous polls show Trump leading in every Southern primary on Tuesday.
The only state that is in play is Texas, with its mega-delegate haul of 155. Cruz was just endorsed by Gov. Greg Abbott (R), which will add both good PR and some muscle to Cruz’s Lone Star State campaign. Other important GOP big dogs in Cruz’s corner include former governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry and, reports The Texas Tribune, one-fourth of the state’s GOP US House members and almost half of the Republican state legislators.
“Cruz is very well-organized” in Texas, says political scientist Richard Murray, Director of Surveys at the University of Houston. “In 2012 [in his US Senate race], he ran better than he polled.” Murray notes that his latest Texas poll gave Cruz 35%, Trump 20% and Rubio 10%. He adds that “the country club Republicans don’t like Cruz. They are still undecided.” Likewise, in a Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey, Cruz led in Texas with 34%, far from the 50% he needs to get all of the delegates.
Christie’s endorsement of Trump was made in Fort Worth, giving the New Yorker significant help not only nationally, but in Texas in particular. Thus, Cruz will have to share the delegate count. Trump will probably come in second and get some delegates as well. Although Trump remains unpopular with Hispanic voters, they won’t be a major factor in the Republican Primary in Texas.
Elsewhere, US Sen. Jeff Sessions (R), one of the Senate’s leading foes of illegal immigrants, said last week that he has never endorsed a presidential candidate in a primary, but he hasn’t decided about this year. Sessions, who is close to Cruz and spoke at a Trump rally in Mobile, did drop a hint, however, noting that Cruz and Rubio are far apart on immigration. Referring to the “Gang of Eight” proposal that Rubio voted for, Sessions said, “Ted Cruz and I opposed it… I thought it was bad policy.” If Cruz is a non-starter after Super Tuesday, don’t be surprised to see Sessions jump on the Trump bandwagon.
In a move that may also prove significant, former Gov. Mike Huckabee’s daughter, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, has joined the staff of the Trump campaign as a senior advisor. She called Trump “a champion of working families.” This could give Trump added oomph in Arkansas, where Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) has endorsed Rubio.
“It boils down to this. Trump has the momentum,” says Larry Sabato, Director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “You have to assume that Trump has the big mo and will end up with most of the states.”
Rubio, he adds, “has yet to win a state. Where is he even targeting on March 1?” The notion that Trump’s opponents will coalesce around Rubio or Kasich “is a pipe dream. It doesn’t work that way.”