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Donald Trump wins Vermont Republican primary

Donald Trump held a campaign rally In Burlington, Vermont.
Donald Trump held a campaign rally In Burlington, Vermont.
Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Donald Trump has won the Republican primary in Vermont. The result was not a surprise, as a February poll showed Trump ahead of second-place Marco Rubio by 15 points. What is a surprise, however, was a surprisingly strong showing by John Kasich.

Last month, Trump won the Republican primary in neighboring New Hampshire by a massive 19-point margin. Voters in the Northeast are less religious than in other parts of the country, and Trump's largely secular campaign themes have proven popular.

Kasich's unexpectedly strong second-place performance will give him some bragging rights. And under Vermont's proportional allocation rules, Kasich will win some delegates.

However, the fact remains that he hasn't yet won a single state. And Kasich's rise will only complicate the efforts of Marco Rubio to consolidate mainstream conservatives behind him.

The results are bad news for Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio at a campaign rally in Minnesota.
Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Obviously, losing to Donald Trump is bad news for every other Republican candidate. But the loss is a particularly big blow to Marco Rubio, who has worked to appeal to the kind of moderate, secular Republicans who are more common in Vermont than elsewhere in the country.

A February poll showed Rubio in second place with 17 percent — with Kasich capturing just 10 percent of the vote. But exit polls suggest that this order has flipped, with Kasich close behind Trump and Rubio a distant third.

That will give Kasich a plausible argument that he is in a better position to challenge Donald Trump than Marco Rubio, and to give him a rationale for staying in the race until March 15, when his home state of Ohio will hold a winner-take-all primary.

Trump is riding a nationwide wave of popularity

We won't know the full results from Tuesday's votes until Wednesday morning, but it's clear Trump is the night's big winner. He has prevailed in Georgia, Alabama, Massachusetts, Virginia, Arkansas, and Tennessee. And so far, he has only lost in three states — Texas and Oklahoma to Ted Cruz, and Minnesota to Rubio.

No matter how well he does on Tuesday, Trump won't yet have enough votes to clinch the Republican nomination. But Trump has a lot of momentum, and it's going to be hard for any other candidate to beat him.