On Cruz’ and Rubio’s Fight to Challenge Trump

On the Surface

With commanding victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina, Donald Trump seems unstoppable as the Republican Party’s presidential nominee. If the GOP establishment wishes to stop Trump, either Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio must drop out so that the other can face Trump directly.

Divide and (Fail to) Conquer

The Republican field, once so vast, has essentially been narrowed down to three (although John Kasich and Ben Carson are still running, polls have proven that they’re inconsequential at this point). And Trump is the frontrunner, much to the chagrin of a Republican Party whose strategy up until this point has been to ignore Trump and hope he goes away.

And so the GOP establishment awaits Super Tuesday and tonight’s contest in Nevada. Last week, in South Carolina, Trump won 33 percent of the vote, while Rubio and Cruz were tied at 22 percent each.

If both Rubio and Cruz stay in the election, the GOP is in for a hard-fought nomination battle. But if either Rubio or Cruz can best the other, then the winner will be in a position to defeat Trump in spite of his momentum. And now the question becomes: who will emerge victorious? The signs point to Marco Rubio.

Cruz has repeatedly engaged Trump directly (especially concerning Trump’s skepticism over Cruz’s eligibility to run), while Rubio has avoided such confrontation. Now, however, Rubio will forced to engage as Trump’s campaign views Cruz as less and less of a threat than he’d been perceived as following his Iowa win.

Certainly, there is some credibility to that view. Cruz, polling at second for many weeks in New Hampshire, found himself locked in a dead heat with Rubio. And, while Cruz has run on a platform of Christian evangelism, he failed to secure a win in the heavily evangelical South Carolina.

Rubio, however, is on the upswing. Last week, Rubio found himself in a precarious position following a disastrous debate performance in New Hampshire. But a solid showing in this past Saturday’s debate, Nikki Haley’s endorsement, and a campaign with renewed vigor, has brought Rubio back from the brink.

While Cruz still has considerable funding, the GOP establishment is increasingly concluding that the race for the nomination is between Trump and Rubio. Cruz must fight that perception, and it’s an uphill battle.

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