The election results on Tuesday were a disaster for Republican elites still clinging to hope that they can stop Donald Trump.
Though the votes are still being tallied and the delegates haven't all been allotted, Tuesday's primaries gave Trump tons of fantastic news at just the moment his campaign most needed it — before a pair of crucial winner-take-all primaries in Florida and Ohio next week.
The billionaire won two easy victories in Michigan and Mississippi, quieting recent chatter among pundits that his momentum had crested. That also means he beat two of his remaining rivals, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, in their home regions (the South and the Midwest, respectively) — though Cruz did get some good news by winning Idaho.
And as the cherry on top, Marco Rubio's candidacy suddenly seems to be in free fall — Rubio came in fourth place with just single-digit support in both Michigan and Mississippi, and was shut out of delegates entirely in both of them.
Combined with Rubio's disappointing performances on Saturday, this seems to indicate that voters nationwide are writing him off. And this collapse comes at the perfect time for Trump, because one week from today, he will face off with Rubio in the senator's hugely important winner-take-all home state of Florida.
Trump beat Kasich and Rubio right before he battles both in their home states
While Tuesday's results will likely help Trump expand his delegate lead, it won't be by all that much, since these states allot their delegates proportionally, and Ted Cruz is currently about 12 points behind him in both Michigan and Mississippi.
But these results could matter because these contests were the last significant ones before a crucial day of primary voting — next week's March 15 contests, which some have deemed "Super Tuesday II." After this, though nearly three months of the GOP contest will remain, about 59 percent of delegates will already have been allotted — so the bigger the lead Trump amasses, the tougher it will be for his rivals to catch up.
On the Ides of March, Trump is battling with Rubio to win Florida and Kasich to win Ohio. If he wins both — even with a tiny plurality — he racks up every single one of their 165 delegates. To put that into context, that's nearly half Ted Cruz's total and more delegates than Marco Rubio has gotten in the entire race so far.
Beating a presidential candidate in his home state is a tall order. But Trump has led all the recent polls in each state, and his victories Tuesday will prevent Kasich and Rubio from getting much positive buzz in this crucial final week.
And if Trump does manage to beat both Kasich and Rubio in their home states, he'd likely drive both out of the race — setting up a showdown with just Ted Cruz in the remaining states. That's fantastic for Trump, since a large share of those remaining delegates come from the Northeast, where Cruz has done poorly so far.
One loose end: Does Trump underperform in closed contests?
There have been a great many theories about how Trump will eventually lose that have been utterly debunked.
But to my mind, there's still one big question mark about his future performance — he's done much worse in "closed" primaries and caucuses so far, where neither Democrats or independents are permitted to vote, as Todd Zywicki pointed out at the Volokh Conspiracy.
Before today, 19 states had voted — but Cruz had actually won five of the eight that had held closed contests (Iowa, Alaska, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Maine). Furthermore, even in two that Trump won — Kentucky and Louisiana — he performed far worse than he had in other states in the region with open contests.
And of the contests Tuesday, the ones Trump romped in — Mississippi and Michigan — were open, and allowed Democrats and independents to vote. But Idaho, where he lost to Ted Cruz, was closed.
This could matter because the vast majority of remaining contests are closed — including Florida next week. If the Trump coalition relies disproportionately on registered Democrats or independents, Trump could run into problems ahead.
Still, consider this just an interesting theory for the time being. Trump's night went great for him overall, and he couldn't have asked for a much better finish a week before those crucial Ohio and Florida contests.