For those interested, Steve Hays wrote an excellent post which reflects my current views regarding how to pick a candidate here. I guess I would hope readers leave this post with the idea they should vote for a Republican who's not Trump. This goes for those leaning Democrat as well as Republicans.
Barring indictment or some such intervention, Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. In a true two-candidate race, she's nearly halfway to the delegates needed for the Democratic nomination and has momentum, more than doubling up Sanders' current delegate count.
Given that, a Democrat might as well vote for a non-Trump candidate, particularly if Hillary locks up the nomination sooner rather than later. For a typical Democrat, I imagine a Trump presidency is the worst-case scenario. Assuming Hillary will win the Democrat nomination, the primary goal of such voters should be to inhibit Trump, unless they think he has no chance against Hillary. Given Trump's surprising ascendancy and Hillary's tenuous political situation which Trump will certainly put on blast, I don't see why a Democrat voter can with reasonable confidence assume Trump couldn't win. Kasich or, to a lesser extent, Cruz or Rubio, would be much better alternatives. Kasich in Ohio or anywhere else he focuses his campaign would be a smart vote. More on this later.
Hillary is a candidate with typical experience who holds typical, modern, Democratic positions. Her weaknesses are also typical: instances of poor decision-making, policy flaws, and character flaws. The first two will be more pronounced in this cycle because she was the right hand to a sitting Democrat President who didn't deliver on expectations. Wolf Blitzer reported today that ~5 million Republicans vs. ~3 million Democrats have voted so far in the primaries. It isn't unusual for a voter base to become jaded into apathy due to current elected officials having performed below expectations.
However, it is for this reason the Republican party is in danger of losing credibility for the next decade or so. The presidency should really be theirs to lose. But the Republican race has been anything but typical, as the front-runner candidate, Trump, is neither Republican nor presidential.
Taking the last point first, he isn't presidential. For starters, he doesn't give any semblance of respect, at least not unless he's framed someone as having capitulated to him in some way - and that's less a matter of respect than it is condescension. It's less, "you're wrong, and here's why" and more, "you're 5'8," or "you're on the far end of the podium," or "you're down in the polls." Trump appeals to the less educated, to blue collar types who feel under-appreciated, and to the "keyboard warrior" mentalities.
Trump likely knows this and has simply loudmouthed his way to where he is because he hasn't had to back it up. That is, no other candidate has called him out, until recently, whether because they considered him a non-threat, believed a defensive reply on policy grounds sufficed, or overestimated the intelligence of voters. Even the media has been somewhat silent - probably for ratings' sake - although I think they are beginning to realize Trump has a better shot than he should.
Not only is Trump not presidential, he isn't even Republican: he has no political background, he's donated to and supported the social policies of Democrats at least as much as Republicans, if not more so, and there's no substance behind Trump's criticism of others. He has stock platitudes like "I will make America great again" - anyone can say that. What really matters should be whether one has an actual idea of how to achieve that.
As recently as the February 25th debate, Trump was exposed as having no awareness of, say, the healthcare system. It's one thing to say Obamacare sucks, it's another to provide an alternative to it. Invited by Rubio and the moderators to give a lengthy sketch of his proposed alternative - which is the equivalent of putting a baseball on a tee and telling the batter to swing whenever he's ready - he passed. He choked.
He also has little sense of foreign policy. For instance, he's repeatedly said he'll make Mexico help pay for a wall bordering our countries, and when the Mexican ex-president scoffed at this, he doubled down and said he'd make height of the wall even higher. Is this his sense of diplomacy? Relative to our national debt, a wall actually doesn't cost that much: "only" $10 billion or so. Why be so provocative?
This leads me to a brief summary of why Trump became the front-runner:
i) Trump is a celebrity. If Trump had no name-recognition, would anyone have cared he was running? No. It's for that reason he brought attention to early debates.
ii) No candidate really paid attention to him in the early rounds. Why should they? If you're a candidate in the early debates, spending time attacking the celebrity glory-hog makes you look like you're picking on the wimpy kid or doing work that is beneath you. Why be a bully when someone else will do your dirty work in eliminating him? Concentrate on the real competition, not the easy pickings.
iii) Why should any candidate think a non-politician has an idea of how politics works? Trump has no political background - but he's played this in his favor, as politicians have gotten a bad reputation in the last decade or so. And Trump has gotten away with this, partially because competing candidates haven't really challenged him regarding his knowledge-ability until recently. He built a head of steam, momentum which wasn't even acknowledged until several primaries passed. Now Trump can play his anti-establishment card further, with Carson virtually out and candidates swarming against him. Now he's able to better frame himself as standing up for the little guy, the candidate who is really just a concerned citizen, the dog who will bite back.
iv) Trump puts on a tough-guy persona: this is ironic since he comes from a wealthy family and has been given whatever he wanted. But it simultaneously plays into his egotism and preys on the unsuspecting, politically illiterate masses. Is a billionaire like Trump really altruistic, or does he have another agenda? What does his past suggest? Obviously the latter.I don't expect to dissuade Trump voters in this post. In my experience, that's a time-waste. Trump supporters mostly try to emulate Trump: I'm tough, I won't budge, now here's an ad hominem for your trouble - e.g. you're a "lightweight," the "worst liar," etc., as if Trump is none of these things. The irrationality and intractability is predictable, if boring. Then there are the passive aggressive types who can't stand being put into this box yet have no reason for voting for Trump other than that "he's different." The response to each of these kinds of posturing should be one of laughter and mocking, per Rubio in the last debate ("That's all you got?"), not cringe-worthy whining, per Cruz ("Let me respond, he called me a liar!").
I'm just looking to present the reality of the predicament the Republican party has put itself in, and how I think they will or should try to get out of it.
As of now, Trump is about 7% off pace to get to the magic number of delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination. He'll have to make that difference up going forward. Considering that, going into Super Tuesday, there was a real concern a two person race was the only way to stop Trump, yesterday was, in an otherwise depressing sense, a positive. There's still some flexibility in strategy.
If the other candidates have the good of the Republican party in mind, a Trump nomination would be less of a threat. Unfortunately - or perhaps fortunately, depending on who the voters would otherwise vote for - since he's not a politician, Carson has no incentive to drop out until his money is gone. He's in it for the fame, and at the end of the day a possible trade-in for an endorsement or drop-out.
My hope is that Kasich, Cruz, and Rubio each understand when an appropriate time will be to coalesce behind a clear candidate, if necessary. It may not have to turn out that way, if things progress as they have. Either way, Kasich, Cruz, and Rubio should each understand that a Trump nomination makes them look incompetent.
Look at Christie. He's being virtually disowned by Republicans now. Hopefully, that is enough to warn Kasich off from cutting a deal with Trump. Losing a fight is one thing, losing a fight then backing the worst remaining contender is another.
Trump might offer Kasich a position to attempt to put himself in a better position to win Ohio, both in the primary and general election. He'd ideally grab some delegates and have a legitimate, somewhat likable politician backing him. I think Kasich supporters would probably go the route of Christie supporters and disown him, though. Trump may understand this and not make an attempt for Kasich's support. Trump's persona plays on a kind of elitism, an exclusive fraternity of enlightened individuals. If Trump makes offers and gets rejected, he's not so exclusive after all. Better to not make the offer. So I think Kasich doesn't go the way of Christie. Obviously, Cruz and Rubio won't.
So Kasich, Cruz, and Rubio need to prevent a Trump win at all costs. If they lose, they could say blame should really be on Trump voters or the other candidates for not coalescing at the "right time," but that would be a tough excuse to give to your more rational constituents as to why you couldn't beat a guy who was a birther laughingstock last cycle.
Voters advocating that this or that candidate need to drop out need to realize campaign strategies have to evolve given certain outcomes. Being the first one to say "I told you so" isn't what's really important here. I'll be the first to admit my surprise Trump did so well in these first primaries. But after New Hampshire, it was apparent he was a threat. You have to react to that. Cruz and Rubio were slow, but they've corrected, finally. Kasich will come around now, I think. Carson will remain irrelevant.
I expect Kasich to stay in the race until the Ohio primary, at least, since that's his home state. Again, Democrats would be smart, I think, to vote for Kasich here and anywhere else he focuses, as he has next to no chance of being nominated yet can hurt Trump's chances. Democrats are incensed a bigoted candidate like Trump could be the Republican nominee. Well, do something about it. Your candidate is set - Hillary, if no indictment, or Sanders otherwise - so actually try to make a difference.
After Ohio, if Kasich hasn't performed well, he might need to throw support behind Cruz or Rubio. I don't imagine Kasich voters being the sort to back Trump or petulantly sit this out. Maybe I'm wrong. Unfortunately, the more radically ideological Cruz voters might sit the election out if he drops - or worse, back Trump since he and Cruz have been friendly in the past, have identical immigration policies, etc. - so he might have to stay in for the duration of the primaries regardless of what happens.
The Ohio primary is the same day as Rubio's home state. I hear Rubio's not doing so well there in polls. Either way, March 15th is the next Republican checkpoint. It's hard to say what any non-Trump candidate should do until then except attack Trump in the right way: on social issues, on his lack of real, substantial policies and political knowledge, and on his flippant, unrepentant, immoral character.
They also need to campaign at states where they each have the most appeal. Take advantage of Trump's time constraints. Each primary from now on has a maximum of 5 states per primary. After this month, those are very widely spread out. If Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich opt to stay in to prevent Trump from the magic number of delegates, they ought to focus campaigning at different states and support one another. Also focus on states with high delegate counts. From what I understand, some of these states are winner take all. Hit Trump hard in the states where he has the most to gain, most to lose.
Is this playing nice? No. But when your opponent continuously throws dirt, you're going to get dirty one way or another. That's an unfortunate reality. Some people think this amounts to pragmatism. As I told a friend recently, there's a difference between pragmatism and being pragmatic.
A vote for the candidate who has a realistic chance of winning and will fight to protect the lives of unborn babies is pragmatic. It's a choice for who you think will be successful, with the added consideration of what they should be succeed about. But it is not pragmatistic, where truth and morality would be measured in terms of success. Truth and morality are what they are apart from our choices. This is already anti-pragmatism. But one can look to succeed without being a pragmatist, particularly by choosing to cast one's vote in proportion to those who oppose truth and morality in the extreme. Even if the push-back is only incremental, that's all you can do.
Now, there are times to sit out voting for any nominees among Republicans or Democrats, I think - viz. when all candidates oppose truth and morality in the extreme - but that's beyond the scope of this post, especially as I don't think that point has been reached.