Republican presidential candidates John Kasich (left) and Marco Rubio, at a forum in February.

Republican presidential candidates John Kasich (left) and Marco Rubio, at a forum in February. Sean Rayford / AP

Florida and Ohio Primaries Critical in the 'Stop Trump' Movement

If Rubio or Kasich can win one, his nomination becomes problematic. If they lose both, he may be unstoppable.

In this screw­ball year, it’s dan­ger­ous to say any­thing defin­it­ively, but it sure looks like Tues­day’s Ohio Re­pub­lic­an primary will be the make-or-break point for the “Stop Trump” move­ment. This is as­sum­ing that Don­ald Trump beats Marco Ru­bio in Flor­ida, which seems a bit more likely than not. Then it comes down to Ohio, where John Kasich has been hold­ing a mod­est lead in the polls. 

If Kasich holds Ohio, which is his home state, the del­eg­ate climb for Trump gets very steep. Trump has won 44 per­cent of all del­eg­ates se­lec­ted so far. Ima­gine a straight, di­ag­on­al line from zero del­eg­ates in the bot­tom left corner at the be­gin­ning of the race, up to the num­ber 1,237 in the up­per right corner, the barest ma­jor­ity that se­cures a nom­in­a­tion. Every week, take a look and see if Trump is above or be­low that tra­ject­ory to the ma­gic num­ber. A Trump loss in the Buck­eye State would lift the share of the re­main­ing del­eg­ates that he would need to win to al­most 60 per­cent, a very im­prob­able chal­lenge. So Trump really needs Ohio. Should Ru­bio pull out a win Flor­ida, where polls show a very close race, and Kasich loses Ohio, Trump would be in the same pre­dic­a­ment. If Trump wins both, the Re­pub­lic­an Party bet­ter get used to the idea of hav­ing the real-es­tate mogul and real­ity-TV star as its nom­in­ee.

Some polit­ic­al ana­lysts reas­on that the chances of stop­ping Trump are bet­ter if he’s op­posed by sev­er­al can­did­ates, each with dif­fer­ent ap­peals res­on­at­ing with dif­fer­ent audi­ences but with the shared goal of pre­vent­ing him from get­ting 50 per­cent of the del­eg­ates each week. Oth­ers fer­vently be­lieve that the anti-Trump side needs to rally be­hind a single can­did­ate. Both the­or­ies are plaus­ible. What’s right in one state might not be in an­oth­er.

One cur­rently non­a­ligned Re­pub­lic­an poll­ster, for whom I have the ut­most re­spect, on Thursday privately differed with my con­clu­sion that a Trump loss would be a killer for him, sug­gest­ing that if Ru­bio lost Flor­ida but Kasich won Ohio, it would “not be close to the ball game.”

He sug­ges­ted that if Trump ar­rived in Clev­e­land with, say 1,100 del­eg­ates, 100 to 150 del­eg­ates shy of a ma­jor­ity, he feared “the party break­ing apart.” Ac­cord­ing to his reas­on­ing, Re­pub­lic­an del­eg­ates would be faced with try­ing to as­cer­tain the “least-worst” op­tion—nom­in­at­ing Trump and risk los­ing the pres­id­en­tial race and down-bal­lot con­tests, or not nom­in­at­ing him and risk a fight that would make the 1968 Demo­crat­ic Con­ven­tion in Chica­go look like a kids’ birth­day party.

Head-to-head polls pit­ting each of the Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates against Clin­ton show the down­side of nom­in­at­ing Trump.

In a Clin­ton-Cruz match­up, the March 3-6 NBC News/Wall Street Journ­al na­tion­al poll gives Clin­ton a 2-point edge, 47 to 45 per­cent. Clin­ton car­ried Demo­crats 88 to 9 per­cent, while Cruz won among Re­pub­lic­ans (85 to 7 per­cent) and in­de­pend­ents (50 to 39 per­cent). Last month, a CNN poll gave Cruz a 1-point edge over Clin­ton, 49 to 48 per­cent, and Fox News also had him ahead by 1 point, 46 to 45 per­cent.

The NBC/WSJ poll had Clin­ton and Ru­bio tied with 46 per­cent each, with Clin­ton hold­ing 85 per­cent of the Demo­crat­ic vote, Ru­bio 86 per­cent of the Re­pub­lic­an vote, and in­de­pend­ents fa­vor­ing Ru­bio by 11 points. The CNN poll put Ru­bio ahead by 3 points, 50 to 47 per­cent, and Fox gave Ru­bio a 4-point edge, 48 to 44 per­cent.

The NBC/WSJ poll didn’t match Clin­ton and Kasich, but the Feb­ru­ary Fox poll showed Kasich up by 3 points, 47 to 44 per­cent.

By con­trast, the NBC/WSJ poll showed Trump los­ing to Clin­ton by 13 points, 51 to 38 per­cent. In the ABC News/Wash­ing­ton Post sur­vey, Clin­ton led Trump by 9 points, 50 to 41 per­cent. Clin­ton led among Demo­crats 88 to 9 per­cent, Trump was ahead among Re­pub­lic­ans by a less im­press­ive 74 to 12 per­cent, and Trump would win in­de­pend­ents by just 3 points, 43 to 40 per­cent. A new ABC News/Wash­ing­ton Post poll gave Clin­ton a 9-point ad­vant­age over Trump, 50 to 41 per­cent; CNN had Clin­ton up by 8 points, 52 to 44 per­cent; Fox had Clin­ton up by 5 points, 47 to 42 per­cent.

The bot­tom line is that a placebo run­ning as the Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee would be ex­tremely com­pet­it­ive and might well beat Clin­ton, but not Don­ald Trump.

The Stop Trump folks either need Ru­bio to win in Flor­ida or Kasich to pre­vail in Ohio. If either wins their home states, Trump’s nom­in­a­tion be­comes highly prob­lem­at­ic. If both win, Trump’s bal­loon loses an aw­ful lot of air. But if both lose, a Trump nom­in­a­tion would be all but un­stop­pable.