It’s gut check time for the GOP establishment. Will they really sacrifice principled leadership for the country to save their own insider income streams?

The rally to someone besides the Trump or Cruz window just closed. Christie’s attacks on Rubio in the latest debate and Bush’s sustained campaign against him in recent weeks worked. Rubio crashed to fifth with no complimentary bump for Christie or Bush. All three are done, even if only Christie recognizes it. Kasich had a great night, but he has no money and no ground game beyond last night. He can’t capitalise on last night’s win. Even if everyone else but Trump and Cruz got out and rallied all their money and staff to Kasich, he doesn’t have enough time or political charisma to pull off that kind of comeback. As we say in American football, that is a Hail Mary play, a long pass thrown to the goal hoping that the receiver can get there to catch it.

Only Cruz can knock out Trump at this point. He’s got the numbers, the money, the strategy, and a record of doing it. But he’s having to fight on too many fronts.

South Carolina votes in a month. Trump is up in South Carolina mostly due to the immigration issue and everyone but Team Cruz’s habit of insulting Trump’s base more than arguing with Trump’s fickle and vague principles. But while Cruz is addressing Trump on the merits he is also having to fight the media, the establishment, and the rest of the field. Trump only has to fend off Cruz. Cruz has enough political chess savvy enough to pull that off, but it will not be easy. Only if the rest of the field stopped sucking money and media away from Cruz, he could concentrate on persuading voters on the principles and quickly secure the nomination.

But hubris, vengeance, and power preservation are in the way. The GOP doesn’t seem to want principled leadership. It wants power.

The socially acceptable reason for not wanting Cruz as the nominee—elites don’t want to admit to themselves or to others that their real objection is preserving their own political clout—is his chances of winning the general election in November. They are low. But that’s irrelevant now because Trump’s chance of winning is even lower.

Current polling shows Trump or Cruz losing to Clinton. Despite Tuesday night, she will be the Democratic nominee. She will just be a battered and much more vulnerable one than anyone anticipated even a few months ago. There is no one her camp wants more than Trump. Truly, he is her easiest win, and she will need an easy opponent after the weaknesses exposed in her path to the nomination.

Trump’s general election weakness doesn’t change with wildcards Sanders or Biden, either. Trump is the Republicans’ worst general election option. Rubio, the one with the best shot by the current poll numbers, is unsalvageable.

Cruz has proven the only long-term strategic campaigner in the field and has a record of turning early poll numbers. He could pull the general off.

So the question for the GOP elites today: what’s it gonna be, a principled conservative who admittedly will shrink the belts of the lobbyists et al, or screw the base and the country to preserve their power?

 

(Image: Gage Skidmore, Flickr)