And then there were three.
Marco Rubio got clobbered in his home state of Florida on Tuesday night and immediately exited the race — something he clearly should have done earlier, as the writing had been on the wall for some time.
That leaves three Republicans running, only two of whom have a realistic path to the nomination. Donald Trump, obviously, is the prohibitive frontrunner. Ted Cruz, while his path is narrow, is given renewed strength now that Rubio is out of the race.
And John Kasich… well, he’s still running.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton continued her march toward inevitability, scoring major wins over rival Bernie Sanders.
Here are four main takeaways from Tuesday night’s primaries in Ohio, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina and Illinois.
Hillary Clinton is now the Democratic nominee
The media continues to say things like “Bernie Sanders has a chance, but Hillary Clinton helped her chances on Tuesday.” This is a lie. The nomination is over. Democrats are not Feeling the Bern. Hillary may not have secured enough delegates to technically win yet, but don’t kid yourself. She is your Democratic nominee.
Donald Trump is the likely Republican candidate, but may have to fight a brokered convention
If Rubio had won Florida, it would be almost certain that Trump would fall short of the delegates necessary to secure the nomination on the first ballot at the convention. But Trump won Florida and kept his hopes of winning the nomination outright alive.
He did, however, lose Ohio. That was a significant blow, and it puts him on a difficult (but not impossible) path.
Cruz, too, has an opening now, though it is a very difficult one. The remaining schedule isn’t exactly favorable to him, and with Kasich still in the race, he faces long odds at winning enough delegates to guarantee victory. Indee, a Cruz victory on the first ballot is extremely unlikely, but if he is able to deny Trump the 1,237 delegates, and ends a close second, he could wage a convention fight and win that way.
To get to that point, though, he needs to start beating Trump. Rubio’s exit helps that, but does it help him enough? We’ll see. But if he can’t start taking down Trump in some of these states very soon, this race is over.
John Kasich is, from here on out, running interference for Donald Trump, hoping to be his vice president
Kasich, hilariously, sent out an email on Tuesday evening claiming that the results in Ohio — Kasich’s home state, mind you — made the race “a whole new ballgame.”
The son-of-a-mailman claimed that the primary elections proved that he was the “alternative” to Trump, and the only candidate who can beat him.
Kasich himself knows this is a lie. The rest of the map is atrocious for him, he has no true base of support, and he won’t win another state or even come close.
He is staying in the race to deny a unified opposition to Trump behind Cruz, so that he can guarantee Trump’s victory, and secure his position (he hopes) as Trump’s vice presidential candidate.
A craven political operator.
Rubio — and all Republicans, really — does not understand politics in 2016
In the aftermath of Rubio’s withdrawal, political journalists began spilling as much ink as possible dissecting what went wrong for the once promising candidate.
Politico Magazine did the best job describing why Rubio — and frankly why nearly all of the Republican candidates — failed so miserably. They simply don’t understand what works in politics.
Politico highlighted the Rubio campaign’s strategy to focus on earned media and television advertising at the expense of field operations and face-to-face contact with voters. Theirs was a high-level media war.
“But one of the things Sullivan seemed least interested in was field offices,” read the piece. “The campaign would force volunteers and supporters to pay for their own yard signs, posters and bumper stickers.”
This is the same systemic failure that has led to conservative defeat after conservative defeat in national elections for the last decade. An over-reliance on ineffective, wasteful TV advertisements, and a lack of belief in the thing that makes the biggest difference for actual campaigns: grassroots campaigning, field, and the data to back it up.
Cruz is the only person in the Republican field who has demonstrated even the slightest understanding of this, though even his campaign has been woefully insufficient when compared to the machine set up on the Democratic side.
These are the four things that stand out the most from Tuesday night, and each reconfirms that for good or for ill, this is one of the most unique presidential races in American history.