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After Super Tuesday, Republicans Are Running Out of Time to Stop Donald Trump

Donald Trump remains on top after big wins last night, as the rest of the Republican field remains locked in a stagnant game of chicken to take him on.
March 2, 2016, 4:10pm
Photo by Ryan Stone/EPA

If you were hoping that the results from yesterday's Super Tuesday contests — the biggest day of the primary election so far — might bring us closer to a clear end of the Republican primary race, think again. After Tuesday's results, the Republican field remains locked in a stagnant game of chicken where no one wants to make the first move to drop out, even as time is rapidly running out to stop Donald Trump from becoming the nominee.

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Trump confirmed on Tuesday, once again, that he is the center of gravity for this election that everyone is forced to orbit around. He continued to steamroll his way through the country by picking up victories in seven out of the 11 states, everywhere from the deep south to the most liberal pockets of the northeast.

"This has been an amazing evening," Donald Trump crowed during his victory speech from his gilded Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida. "This is like the Academy Awards!"

Trump has reason to gloat, considering that he now has 316 Republican delegates out of the 1,237 needed to win the nomination, compared to Ted Cruz's 226 and Marco Rubio's 106. Cruz picked up wins in Texas and Oklahoma, whereas Rubio managed to eke out a single win in Minnesota.

Many members of the media were quick to hand the trophy to Trump. Dan Balz at the Washington Post said that, "the window for stopping Donald Trump closed almost completely Tuesday night."

Cruz had the second-best night after Trump, after he successfully won his home state of Texas, which had the highest delegate count of any state. But Trump's dominance over the race was made even more obvious during Cruz's chest-thumping victory speech, which centered almost entirely on the businessman. Trump in the White House, Cruz boomed, "would be a disaster for Republicans, for conservatives, for the nation."

Cruz cautioned Republican voters against picking a candidate he called "vulgar and profane" and "whose words would make you embarrassed if your children repeated them."

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Cruz is now positioning himself as the best alternative to Trump, after beating him in four states so far, while Rubio has won just a single contest. Rubio had tried to take down Trump in Tennessee and Virginia, where he had campaigned hard and earned the backing of the state's elected officials, but failed. No one even needed to call him the underdog of the night — he did it himself in his speech.

"The pundits say we're underdogs, I'll accept that. We've all been underdogs. This is a community of underdogs," Rubio said during his speech from his home state of Florida.

Rubio doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. He said on Tuesday night that he is confident "we will win" and has his eyes set on his home state of Florida, which votes on March 15. That will mark the first of the "winner-take-all" states, in which delegates are handed out whole-sale, rather than proportionally. Rubio believes that by taking a few of those contests — no small feat given that he's losing to Trump by double-digits even in Florida in current polling — he can compete at the convention.

Cruz's victories on Tuesday, combined with Rubio's poor performance, made it clear that he may be the Republican Party's last chance to take on Trump. This realization sent shudders through the Republican establishment, many of whom detest Trump and Cruz with equal measure.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who just five days ago joked about how easy it would be to murder Cruz on the Senate floor without being charged, begrudgingly admitted he is now the party's last hope.

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"Cruz is not my favorite by any means … but we may be in a position where we have to rally around Cruz as the only way to stop Trump," Graham said on CNN Tuesday night. "I can't believe I would say yes, but yes," he added.

Graham's surrender demonstrates that the GOP might have finally come to terms with the fundamental truth about their primary race — the longer the field remains divided, the better chance Trump has of becoming the nominee. Trump has been able to pick up most of the delegates in the early primary states even though he is only getting 30 to 40 percent of the vote and has yet to win the majority in any one state. In other words, Trump is claiming decisive victories even when more than half of Republicans are voting against him.

Tuesday's results made it clear that the Republican field had better consolidate, and quick, if the party wants to stop Trump. Several prominent conservative voices began calling on Rubio to drop out of the race in the hopes that his supporters would coalesce behind Cruz as their best chance for beating Trump.

"It is time for Cruz to accept we need a unity ticket and for Rubio to agree to be Cruz's Vice Presidential pick," argued conservative pundit Erick Erickson for the blog the Insurgent. "uniting the outsider and insider factions of the party and stopping Trump in the process."

Bill Kristol, the editor of the conservative magazine the Weekly Standard, also called for a Cruz-Rubio unity ticket. "Cruz and Rubio together have won more votes and more delegates than Trump so far," Kristol tweeted. "So they just have to combine. Simple. Cruz-Rubio 2016."

Then there the other two guys still running for president — John Kasich and Ben Carson. Neither of them gave any indication that they were going to take one for the team and drop out, despite failing to pick up much support on Tuesday. Carson only won three delegates but insisted he's still not leaving the race "quite yet." Kasich won 19 delegates yet is determined to stay in until March 15, when his home state of Ohio votes in their winner-take-all primary.

Trump's sweeping victories in states as diverse as Alabama to Massachusetts proved, yet again, that he refuses to bound by either geography or the normal laws of presidential campaigns. If none of the other Republican contenders start dropping out soon, it's possible that no one candidate will be able to get the majority of the vote. The chances of a brokered convention in July are starting to look a lot more likely.

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter:  @obecker928