The conventional wisdom will tell you that Marco Rubio won tonight’s debate and turned this campaign around. It’s wishful thinking. Fundamentally, nothing happened here tonight that we haven’t seen many times before during this campaign season. Donald Trump got hit hard. That’s happened before, and he’s always gained in the polls.
Nothing that happened tonight changed the dynamics or the trajectory of the race. As long as there are more than two candidates, Trump will continue to prevail with pluralities from state to state. In a year in which Republican voters hate the establishment, the fact that Rubio has nearly consolidated the establishment means little.
So Rubio may have won the debate on points, but in terms of the direction of the race, nothing has changed. Trump is winning and is likely to continue winning.
But here’s tonight’s big loser: Ted Cruz. He was a nonentity in tonight’s debate. He didn’t help his cause at all. That’s actually bad for Rubio, who reportedly is counting on a strategy of getting to the convention with no candidate having a majority of delegates, thereby creating a brokered convention. For that to happen (and it’s highly unlikely), he needs Cruz to stay in the race, because a good number of Cruz’s supporters are much likelier to go to Trump than to Rubio.
John Kasich was also a loser tonight. He’s trying to be the calm, rational, sensible candidate, which is not what this year’s Republican electorate wants. He’s not going to get anywhere throwing broccoli to the wolves.
And Ben Carson remained a nonentity. His whining about speaking time was pathetic. He’s going nowhere, and everybody seems to understand this but Carson himself.
Bottom line: tonight’s debate didn’t change anything. Trump’s still in the lead and poised to pull a near-sweep on Super Tuesday.