A few horse-racey thoughts before Super Tuesday. To pre-empt the usual objections, let me emphasize that what follows concerns itself not with my personal preferences but with what is electorally likely:
~Donald Trump seems set for a pretty super day, winning at least ten of the twelve states, and more likely eleven, or possibly a full sweep. The exceptions are Ted Cruz's home state of Texas (where there is conflicting polling evidence) and perhaps, if you cling to the pre-Nevada conventional wisdom about Trump's organizational weakness in caucus states, Minnesota. But a ten-state victory for Trump will still be a super-duper Tuesday for him, and a stinker for Cruz and Rubio.
~If Cruz loses Texas, he's over. His base-maximization strategy relied principally on a twin appeal to ideological conservatives and evangelical Christians. So far the conservative pitch is working better than the evangelical one, which went nowhere in South Carolina and Nevada to the point where Cruz supporter David Limbaugh has advised him to ease up on the God stuff. In my psephological analysis last week, I noted that to eke out the most minimal victory in the electoral college a Republican candidate has to win either Colorado or New Hampshire: That's simply the arithmetical reality. In a general election, Cruz's insufficiently lightly worn religiosity will not carry either of those two states. But even in primary season he appears to have a limited appeal. Cruz is in third or fourth place in seven of the twelve Super Tuesday states. No-one thinks Massachusetts will be competitive this November, but its 42 delegates in Tuesday's primary would come in handy at a brokered convention. Yet, according to which of the two recent polls you believe, Cruz is either 30 or 40 points behind Trump. Pace David Limbaugh, maybe it's not just the televangelist mien: At their best, his Iowa predecessors, Huckabee and Santorum, who won respectively eight and eleven states, had an undeniable emotional connection with voters which the dry, prosecutorial Cruz seems to lack.
~Marco Rubio and John Kasich are in at least until their home states vote on March 15th - or perhaps until just before: if polls show they're certain to lose, as both Florida and Ohio presently suggest, the sitting senator and sitting governor may decide to pull out pre-humiliation. Rubio had a better night than Cruz on Thursday: his jabs against Trump were both lower and jollier, and his morning-after shtick lower and jollier still - he taunted Trump as a pants-wetter. But at some point even a media darling has to win something. Rubio has the best shot at denying Trump victory, but, absent a total collapse of the mogul on Tuesday, Marco can't win the nomination himself except via some brokered-convention machinations. And too many distant second- or third-place finishes from Oklahoma to Vermont risk turning him into spring's Jeb: a man who (as Clive James remarked in another context) has all the qualities of leadership except followers.
~Kasich is hanging on till the contest moves to the midwest with Michigan on March 8th, but Ben Carson may be gone by Wednesday. He was inadequate in the debate - charmingly inadequate to be sure, but inadequate nonetheless. Were both men to withdraw, some of Kasich's vote would go to Rubio and some of Carson's to Cruz. But combined the principal beneficiary would be Trump.
~By March 16th there will be three candidates in the race. But, if Trump's percentage in states he wins on Tuesday is closer to Nevada's 46 per cent than to New Hampshire's 35 per cent, the other two won't matter.
~One policy note: Trump has now pledged to strengthen the libel laws to favor the plaintiff in suits against the media. So his Tweet siding with Michael E Mann against me does not appear to be an accidental aberration. Thus in November America seems likely to have a choice between two candidates who want to rein in the First Amendment: I didn't see that one coming, although,what with his years of delaying tactics and general obstructionism, evidently Mann did. Judging from responses to Senator Ben Sasse's Twitter feed, principled supporters of free speech are somewhat thin on the ground.
~Ultimately, Trump's hostile takeover of the Republican Party has only been possible because of the rigid inflexibility of America's party system. The two-party one-party state, unchanged in 150 years, is unique in the western world, where parties are born and die according to whether there's a market for them. If a genuine market in parties were possible here, this season there would probably be a nationalist party, a conservative party, and a soft-right party - and, over on the other side, a corporatist party and a socialist party. In the British House of Commons, there are currently 11 parties represented, plus four independents. In the Canadian House of Commons, there are five parties. In New Zealand, seven. When The Washington Post's Michael Gerson warns that a Trump nomination would break apart the Republican Party, the implication is that the health of the Republic depends on maintaining the same two parties of the Civil War era for all eternity. Why?