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First Read: Rivals Have Just Two Weeks to Stop Trump

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
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First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Rivals have just two weeks to stop Trump

Donald Trump had a good (though not great) night. Ted Cruz survived (and won a few more states than we thought he would). And Marco Rubio struggled (finishing third in delegates). That’s your summary of last night’s Republican SuperTuesday contests. As a result, Trump’s rivals now have just two weeks to stop him -- in the winner-take-all races of Florida and Ohio onMarch 15. The good news for them: The combined delegate haul from Florida and Ohio (165) is bigger than Trump’s overall delegate lead over his closest competition, Cruz (104 delegates). The bad news: None of them has much of an incentive to exit the Republican race, which means that the same five GOP candidates -- Trump, Cruz, Rubio, John Kasich, and Ben Carson -- will continue to split up the vote. And that gives Trump an easier path to victory in Florida and Ohio. If any other Republican had won 10 out of the first 15 contests like Trump has, and if any other Republican was mainly responsible for driving the turnout we’ve seen so far, we’d say that person was lock to be the GOP nominee. Trump isn’t a lock. But he could be therein 13 days.

Given the split field, you have to like Trump’s chances in Florida and Ohio

The Republican best positioned to stop Trump in Florida (Rubio) is someone who won just one state last night and finished third in delegates. And the Republican best positioned to stop Trump in Ohio (Kasich) still hasn’t won a single state and has earned a total of just 23 delegates. What’ more, neither Rubio nor Kasich seem built to win the nine contests -- Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, DC (with this maybe being the one exception) -- between now and March 15. Granted, Rubio is Florida’s current senator, and Kasich is Ohio’s sitting governor. And you could conceive of something like a non-aggression pact, where Trump’s rivals concede Florida to Rubio and Ohio to Kasich -- just to give them best chance of denying each state to Trump. But something like that is better in theory than in practice. Bottom line: Trump can be stopped. But you have to like his chances two weeks from now.

Unless something extraordinary happens, we pretty much know who the Democratic nominee will be -- Hillary Clinton

That’s the fairly easy conclusion from last night’s Super Tuesday results. Hillary Clinton won seven out of the 11 states (including Massachusetts in Sanders’ New England backyard); she racked up 461 delegates to Sanders’ 295; and when you add superdelegates, Clinton holds an overall 979-382 lead. That means to catch Clinton, Sanders must win 59% of the remaining delegates -- a near impossible task considering the proportional allocation in all contests. Of course, the unexpected can always occur in politics. And we still have months to go. But Hillary Clinton sure looks like a slam dunk to be the Democratic nominee in July – unless something extraordinary happens (FBI, anyone?). Sanders is vowing to remain in the race, and he has more than enough money to do so. But it will be interesting to watch his tone on the campaign trail. Do his attacks on Clinton get replaced by attacks on Trump? If last night was an indication, he’s more focused on Trump than Clinton.

Sanders gets crushed by African-American and Latino voters

One of the reasons why Clinton is in such of a commanding position: Any Democratic presidential candidate who struggles with African-American and Latino voters as much as Sanders did last night isn’t going to have much of a chance to win the party’s nomination. Just look at these numbers among African Americans

  • Alabama: Clinton 93%, Sanders 5%
  • Arkansas: Clinton 90%, Sanders 10%
  • Georgia: Clinton 83%, Sanders 16%
  • Oklahoma: Clinton 71%, Sanders 27%
  • Tennessee: Clinton 85%, Sanders 12%
  • Texas: Clinton 83%, Sanders 15%
  • Virginia: Clinton 84%, Sanders 16%

As Nate Cohn observes, “The biggest lesson of the Sanders campaign is that there is no progressive/left majority in the Democratic Party without black voters.” And Clinton won Latinos in Texas, 71%-29%, further proving that the Nevada entrance poll was a little screwy.

Super Tuesday by the numbers

States won last night

  • Trump (7): AL, AR, GA, MN, TN, VT, VA
  • Cruz (3): AK, OK, TX
  • Rubio (1): MN
  • Clinton (7): AL, AR, GA, MA, TN, TX, VA
  • Sanders (4): CO, MN, OK, VT

Delegates won last night

  • Trump 210
  • Cruz 171
  • Rubio 82
  • Kasich 17
  • Carson 2
  • Clinton 461
  • Sanders 295

More record turnout on the GOP side

The final big story from last night was the turnout. Per NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell, all of this year’s GOP contests – save for Vermont – have seen record turnout since 2000.


  • 2016: 1,025,077
  • 2000: 664,093


  • 2016: 851,500
  • 2008: 553,815


  • 2016: 459,542
  • 2008: 335,054


  • 2016: 1,281,735 (92% reporting)
  • 2008: 963,500


  • 2016: 797,232
  • 2012: 621,742


  • 2016: 593,731
  • 2000: 502,932


  • 2016: 2,371,062
  • 2012: 1,449,477


  • 2016: 398,622
  • 2008: 229,153


  • 2016: 111,698
  • 2008: 62,828

New Hampshire

  • 2016: 284,120
  • 2012: 248,475


  • 2016: 186,874
  • 2012: 122,255

South Carolina

  • 2016: 737,917
  • 2012: 603,770


  • 2016: 75,216
  • 2008: 44,315

Folks, that is the Trump factor. And it’s why stopping him is going to be so hard – he’s the one bringing new people into the fold.

Countdown to KS, KY (GOP), LA, ME, NE (Dem) contests: 3 days

Countdown to ME (Dem) contest: 4 days

Countdown to HI (GOP), ID (GOP), MI, MS contests: 6 days

Countdown to FL, IL, MO, NC, OH contests: 13 days