I admit that over the past year, I have often erred in my predictions regarding Donald Trump. In fact, in my underrating of The Donald, I have at times felt like the Literary Digest of PolitickerNJ. For the uninitiated, the Literary Digest was the magazine that predicted Alfred Landon to defeat Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the election of 1936, in which FDR carried every state except Maine and Vermont.
While Donald Trump continues to be the front runner in the GOP presidential race after Super Tuesday, he has less than a 100 delegate lead over Ted Cruz. Indeed, it was also a very good night for Cruz, with victories in Texas, Oklahoma, and Alaska. It was also an evening in which a feasible path emerged for him to win the GOP presidential nomination.
Had Ted Cruz lost the primary in his home state of Texas, he would have been finished as a presidential candidate. But he won – and won handily.
By contrast, Marco Rubio is headed for a humiliating defeat by Trump in his home state of Florida on March 15. In spite of continuing praise from media acolytes like Charles Hurt, Rubio’s entire political career is now in jeopardy.
If Ted Cruz loses the fight for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, he can return to the U.S. Senate and continue to be a significant national player. By contrast, Marco Rubio is leaving the U. S. Senate at the end of 2016. He can only survive as a future presidential candidate by running for governor of Florida in 2018 – and the forces of both former Governor Jeb Bush and present Governor Rick Scott have a distinct distaste for him. They will not be promoting a Rubio for Governor candidacy.
After Rubio is vanquished in Florida, he will likely withdraw, since he will no longer be able to raise any money. If he does not withdraw, he will be a candidate without credibility or viability.
In either event, the race will then become a virtual two-way contest between Trump and Cruz, regardless of whether John Kasich remains in the competition. Kasich may win the Ohio winner-take-all primary on March 15 (which would adversely affect Trump), but due to his moderate image, justified or not, he will be unable to attract significant support elsewhere. The Cruz campaign management will have achieved their long sought one-on-one contest with Donald Trump.
Once the race is a virtual two-person competition, Cruz will have a real chance of winning at least as many primaries and delegates as Trump. There is no real unfavorable primary in sight for Ted.
The primary schedule concludes on June 7, with the two major contests on that date being in California (172 delegates, winner-take-all by Congressional district) and New Jersey (51 delegates, winner-take-all statewide). Ted Cruz’s prospects in both states are favorable, despite the conventional wisdom to the contrary.
The last poll taken in the GOP primary in California was the renowned Field Poll, taken during the period commencing December 16 and ending January 3. It showed Ted Cruz with a two-point lead.
I was not surprised. California has a large movement conservative voting constituency, and Cruz has consistently outperformed Trump among very conservative voters. Furthermore, the California Republican Party is highly influenced by the heritage of Ronald Reagan, and Ted Cruz has a far more authentic claim to this legacy than Donald Trump. The Golden State of California should be a golden land for Ted Cruz to garner delegates. In New Jersey, Donald Trump now has a significant disadvantage: the endorsement of Chris Christie. Trump will soon learn that Chris Christie is the heaviest political albatross he will ever have to bear.
The Christie endorsement is political poison for Trump on three levels.
First, it makes Trump the Republican establishment candidate in New Jersey in a year when the mood of GOP voters in New Jersey and nationwide is decidedly anti-establishment.
Second, one of the main issues going forward, in the aftermath of the passing of Antonin Scalia, is that of future U.S. Supreme Court appointments. On this issue, it is a major negative for Donald Trump to have Chris Christie as his key ally in the Garden State, the governor who reappointed Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, one of the most liberal state jurists in the nation.
Third, Chris Christie’s approval ratings in New Jersey, among both Republicans and Democrats, are plunging to subterranean levels. Legislators of both political parties are calling for his resignation as governor. Christie will be a major drag on Trump at the polls.
The relationship of Chris Christie and Donald Trump reminds me of that between Free French leader Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill during the Second World War, although Christie is hardly a de Gaulle-like figure. The symbol of the Free French was the Cross of Lorraine. When asked about de Gaulle, Churchill responded by saying that the Cross of Lorraine was the heaviest cross the British Empire ever had to bear!
After the New Jersey primary, Donald Trump may have similar sentiments about Chris Christie. I certainly don’t think Christie would ever be considered by Trump as a running mate. Trump does not believe in political suicide. Indeed, the increasingly negative perceptions of New Jerseyans of their governor, Chris Christie, may well be a factor that facilitates Ted Cruz’s path to the GOP presidential nomination.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman. The Ted Cruz for President Campaign announced Alan’s endorsement in December