Donald Trump marches on as Marco Rubio gets crushed

Mr Trump won Michigan and Mississippi, and also picked up Hawaii. At press time, he had 458 delegates, compared with 359 for Mr Cruz, 54 for Mr Kasich and 151 for Mr Rubio.
Mr Trump won Michigan and Mississippi, and also picked up Hawaii. At press time, he had 458 delegates, compared with 359 for Mr Cruz, 54 for Mr Kasich and 151 for Mr Rubio.PHOTO: REUTERS

The Republican Party coalition trying to stop the nomination of Mr Donald Trump was left licking its wounds after the controversial tycoon came away with two important victories on Tuesday night, while establishment favourite Marco Rubio's campaign suffered a stunning collapse.

Mr Trump easily won the two biggest prizes on offer - Michigan and Mississippi - proving his enduring popularity among voters despite being the target of millions of dollars of negative advertising in recent days. He also picked up Hawaii.

Though Texas Senator Ted Cruz managed to beat expectations to win in Idaho, the night's results mean Mr Trump is extending his delegate lead.

At press time, Mr Trump had 458 delegates, compared with 359 for Mr Cruz. Ohio Governor John Kasich and Mr Rubio, a Florida senator, trailed with 54 and 151, respectively.

The magic number needed to win the nomination is 1,237. Tuesday's results mean it is increasingly unlikely that someone other than Mr Trump can hit that target - leaving a contested convention as the most plausible way to stop him.

That strategy would involve simply trying to take enough votes off Mr Trump to deny him the 1,237 needed, allowing for backroom dealing at July's nominating convention. A Politico report said operatives in Washington are distributing a book, titled Chaos: The Outsider's Guide To A Contested Republican National Convention, to prepare party activists for the potential mayhem.

How viable that strategy is will depend on how well Mr Trump does in a week's time, when nearly 400 delegates are up for grabs.

Observers note, however, that it remains unclear who the establishment would back in such a situation. The current establishment pick, Mr Rubio, had a disastrous night on Tuesday. He finished in last place in Mississippi and Michigan, falling behind Mr Kasich and failing to pick up a single delegate.

"Kasich may come to replace Rubio as the establishment lane candidate who can at least deprive Trump of a delegate majority. Cruz will probably remain the best bet to win a plurality in his own right," wrote Marquette University Associate Professor Julia Azari on the election forecasting site FiveThirtyEight.

Indeed, Dr Matt Grossmann of Michigan State University said that Mr Kasich can be satisfied by exceeding expectations even if he failed to win any states to date.

"Kasich gains the momentum he needed going into Ohio, where he has a chance to win his home state. The difficulty is that he is so far behind that he may not be able to catch Trump. Cruz maintains the argument that he is the main Trump alternative and benefits from the horrible showing by Rubio tonight."

In the end, Mr Trump proved to be the only real winner on Tuesday, a point he made sure to declare himself during a victory speech.

"There's only one person who did well tonight: Donald Trump," he said at an event in Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida.

He was the only Republican candidate on Tuesday to make a speech after the results, and the businessman put in another eye-opening performance. His event was a rally, a press conference and an infomercial all rolled into one.

After the likes of Mr Rubio and former Republican nominee Mitt Romney had attacked him for failed businesses like Trump Steaks and Trump Water, he prepared a showcase at the event to prove that the businesses were alive and well.

That led to the spectacle of a presidential candidate sharing a stage with a table featuring a platter of raw meat, as well as bottles of Trump-branded wine and water.

His remarks contained the usual jibes against "Lying Ted" and "Little Rubio", but he also included a nod to the anti-Trump movement.

"I don't think I've ever had so many horrible, horrible things said about me in one week - US$38 million (S$52.6 million) worth of horrible lies but that's okay. It shows you how brilliant the public is."

He also urged again for the party to unite behind him.

"We have something going that is so good, we should grab each other and unify the party and nobody is going to beat us."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2016, with the headline 'Trump marches on as Rubio gets crushed'. Print Edition | Subscribe