I have favored Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for President ever since Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker dropped out. I still think Rubio would make an outstanding president. I still recommend Rubio to voters in Florida, where he is the strongest opponent to flawed front runner Donald J. Trump, and perhaps in North Carolina as well, where delegates will be awarded proportionally.
But here in Missouri and neighboring Illinois, Rubio lacks the support necessary to win either winner-take-all primary, or even a congressional district (whose winner also gets delegates). Rubio himself recently stated that he was concentrating his efforts on winning Florida, and not to expect favorable results in Tuesday’s other primaries. In other words, he was writing off the other four states (including Missouri and Illinois).
If you think (as I do) that it is important to keep the Republican nomination away from Trump, it’s time to vote strategically. It’s time to unite behind Ted Cruz.
Strategic voting requires solid polling information, and unfortunately, that is sorely lacking as we struggle to decide. For lots of reasons, polling in 2016 has been spotty at best, and polling for Missouri and Illinois is even worse. The only Missouri poll taken any time in the past six months is one by the Docking Institute at Fort Hays State University in western Kansas (hardly in the league of the Survey Research Center in Michigan, or even Quinnipiac or Marist). The poll was based on a tiny sample size of just 208 Republican voters, with a high 7% margin of error. The poll’s gender mix was an unrealistic 54%-46% male. But it’s all we have. The poll was commissioned jointly by several Missouri newspapers, including the St. Louis Post Dispatch. I give it some credence, though, because the results are about what I would expect. It shows Trump and Cruz well ahead of the others, with Trump leading Cruz, 36% to 29% (i.e., within the margin of error), with Rubio and Kasich in high single digits and 17% undecided. Also, the polls gender mix may overstate the Trump vote, because Trump generally polls better with men than women.
Four Illinois polls taken this month also show Trump ahead and Cruz in second, with margins varying from 13 points to just 4 points. Unlike Missouri, Kasich and Rubio polled in significant double digits. A We Ask America poll on March 7 polled over a thousand likely voters (margin of error 3.1%), a Chicago Tribune poll, March 2-6, polled 600 likely Republican voters (margin of error 4.1%), a CBS/YouGov poll, March 9-11, polled 656 likely Republican voters (margin of error 3.5%), and an NBC/Marist poll questioned 421 likely Republican voters (margin of error 4.8%). The Illinois polls are probably more reliable for that state, and two provide some area breakdown. The We Ask America and Chicago Tribune polls showed Trump ahead across the state, with Cruz most competitive downstate (including the St. Louis Metro East). The polls had contradictory results as to who is the strongest alternative to Trump in and around Chicago.
Unfortunately, the Missouri poll does not break down the results by district, or even by general areas of the state. In the early states, Rubio had been more successful in urban and suburban areas. The Illinois polls suggest that Kasich has recently leapfrogged Rubio in those areas. Rubio’s support nationally has plummeted as Kasich’s has risen over the past week or so. But Cruz has also consolidated support and leads both of the others. The polls that the Post Dispatch formerly commissioned with Survey USA gave separate results by areas of the state, like the two Illinois polls. That information would have been extremely helpful for strategic voters in contests awarded by district.
Many Republican voters have been concerned that Cruz, though more principled, would be just as weak a general election candidate as Trump. While early national polls supported that skepticism, Cruz has dramatically improved in more recent tests. The Missouri poll showed Cruz beating both Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders handily in this state, and better than Rubio (who also beat both Democrats) and Trump (who beat Clinton but lost to Sanders). The poll did not test Kasich against the Democrats. While the poll’s male bias may skew these results in favor of Republicans, its suggestion that Cruz would be the strongest Republican is probably not affected by that bias.
Finally, bottom line, I believe Cruz would make an excellent president. Of utmost importance, Cruz will appoint solid Supreme Court justices, and would be much more reliable than Trump. Cruz is just as tough as Trump on illegal immigration, but without Trump’s in-your-face bluster that turns off a majority of general election voters. A superb debater, Cruz will perform excellently against either Clinton or Sanders. While Rubio also scores well on those points (albeit a bit weak on immigration), he won’t be in a position to do that if he doesn’t get the Republican nomination. Frankly, the polls and the math are against Rubio now.
Trump has been winning with large pluralities, but not majorities, but pluralities are enough to win, even in winner-take-all primaries. Trump will ride 30% victories all the way to the convention if the other 70% remains splintered. It’s time to unite behind the strongest alternative to Trump. It’s time to united behind Ted Cruz.