The Republican Party's long-awaited day of reckoning finally arrived on Tuesday, and to no one's surprise, it was a very good day for Donald Trump. In a major multi-state primary contest imaginatively referred to as "Super Tuesday 3," voters in five states cast ballots for the GOP candidates. The results were supposed to determine how hard Trump will have to fight for the party's nomination on the convention floor, and the answer was what most people suspected: not very hard.
The first big news of the night was arguably the most predictable: After trailing in state and national polls for months, Marco Rubio was trounced in his home state, losing Florida's winner-take-all primary to Trump by nearly 20 points shortly after the polls closed Tuesday. The Cuban-American senator lost in every county, except his own, Miami-Dade. It was a humiliating loss for a politician who until recently was looked on as the White Knight of the Republican Party, marking the end of a downward spiral that, in hindsight, began back with that unfortunate sip of water in 2013.
Thus out of options, Rubio announced Tuesday night that he would suspend his presidential campaign. Though he didn't mention Trump by name, his farewell speech was an impressive jeremiad against the frontrunner's divisive brand of politics, and also the conservative movement and GOP Establishment, which he accused of "being more interested in winning elections than solving problems or standing by principles."
"From a political standpoint, the easiest thing to have done in this campaign is to jump on all those anxieties… to make people angrier, make people more frustrated," Rubio told supporters a gathering of supporters in Miami. "But I chose a different route, and I'm proud of that.
"The politics of resentment against other people will not just leave us a fractured party," he added. "They are going to leave us as a nation where people literally hate each other because they have different political opinions."
In a sign of how desperate Republicans have become, Rubio had barely finished speaking before conservatives, online and on cable news—including at least one of the candidate's former advisors—started calling on the Florida senator's supporters to get behind his primary rival, Ted Cruz. Cruz, you may remember, has spent most of the 2016 cycle trying to undermine Rubio, and even had to fire his campaign spokesman for taking the Marco sabotage too far.
By Tuesday night, though, the Texas senator had changed his tune, calling his Senate colleague and rival "an inspiration," and telling Rubio's supporters that they would be welcomed to the Cruz campaign "with open arms."
Aside from the rapid-response ass-kissing, Cruz had a mostly unremarkable night Tuesday, coming in second behind Trump in North Carolina and Illinois, and virtually tying with the frontrunner in Missouri. The proportional allocation of delegates in North Carolina and Missouri once again worked to Cruz's advantage, helping to offset slightly his opponents' winner-take-all victories in Florida and Ohio.
It was hardly a big night for the Texan, but he frequently points out, he remains the only candidate left in the race with a viable path to beating Trump. "Only two campaigns have a plausible path to the nomination," Cruz told supporters at a gathering in Houston on Tuesday night. "Nobody else has any mathematical possibility whatsoever."
The problem for Cruz is that Republican leaders hate him almost as much as they hate Trump. With Rubio out of the race, the lone Establishment survivor is Ohio Governor John Kasich. Though generally unremarkable, Kasich scored a big victory in his home state on Tuesday night, edging out his opponents to take all of Ohio's 66 delegates. While the win can't do much for his presidential ambitions at this point, it made a deep cut into Trump's overall delegate tally, making it far more difficult for the frontrunner to get to the 1,237 needed to lock up the nomination before the convention.
Trump, meanwhile, seemed unfazed. In surprisingly un-Donald-like remarks on Tuesday, he turned his attention not to his primary opponents, but to the party itself, hinting that it's time for Republicans to accept him as their eventual nominee. "We have something happening that makes the Republican Party probably the biggest political story in the world," Trump told supporters gathered in the ballroom at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida. "Everyone around the world is talking about it. Millions of people are coming in to vote."
"We're gonna win, win, win, and we're not stopping," he promised. "We're going to have great victories for our country."
On the Democratic side, Tuesday's votes were less eventful, although the outcome was similarly favorable to the party's frontrunner. After pulling off a surprising upset in the Michigan primary last week, Bernie Sanders once again fell behind his opponent Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, finishing second in four of the five states that cast ballots. The results were close in Illinois, and he did manage to pull off a tie in Missouri; but in Ohio, a Rust Belt state where Sanders's campaign had hoped to replicate its Michigan success, Clinton managed to pull ahead by more than 10 points. She also won easily in Florida and North Carolina
The results solidify Clinton's already strong delegate lead, making her inevitable nomination once again seem like a foregone conclusion. Sanders is likely to stay in the race—he's said he'll ride his campaign out to the convention, and has the funding to do it—but at this point, it's hard to see how he could upset the calculus of the race.
And Clinton herself is once again talking about the election like she has it in the bag. "We know we will add to our delegate lead to roughly 300, with over 2 million more votes nationwide," she told supporters at a rally in West Palm Beach on Tuesday. "We are moving closer to securing the Democratic Party nomination and closer to winning this election in November."
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