Where we go after Armageddon Tuesday

It all boils down to Tuesday. All of it.

If Rubio loses in Florida, he's done. If Kasich loses in Ohio, he's done. If Trump sweeps Florida, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri he may be unstoppable, a least as far as the nomination is concerned; he'll be stopped rather an abruptly and with appropriate rudeness on Election Day.

So what happens after Tuesday? Where do we go from here?

If both Rubio and Kasich win their home state primaries, the fight to deny Trump the 1,237 delegates he needs for the nomination and set up an open convention that can pick a compromise candidate who can unite the party and beat Hillary will continue apace. 2016 will likely be saved. The Good Guys can still win.

If either Rubio or Kasich wins, he will become the candidate for the remaining sane Republicans who find Trump unacceptable and Cruz distasteful. The other will become irrelevant whether or not he formally withdraws from the race. In that case, I will continue to root for an open convention. Failing that, I would prefer Ted Cruz to be the nominee, even though I believe that he's only marginally more electable than Trump and, in any case, would not make a very good president due to his personality and the general weirdness that hovers around him like a cloud and makes him difficult to take seriously.

My reason was summed up nicely by Lutheran theologian Jack Kilcrease, who remarked that if the Republican party nominates Cruz, all it will lose will be an election. Cruz is essentially Barry Goldwater. He will be destroyed in a landslide. The Republican party will lose the Senate. The Supreme Court will be out of reach for a generation, and the Constitution will continue to be perverted by a Court whose revisionist majority will be reinforced by up to four appointments made by President Clinton in the next four years.

But then, the Republican party can reconsolidate. It can pick up the pieces, somewhat cleansed by the disaster. I have a feeling the Trump impulse will be largely dissipated and subsumed by a desire to deny Hillary her second term at any cost. The Cruz wing of the party will at long last have been cured of the fantasy that it's large enough to win a presidential election without the support of those they disdainfully dismiss as "the Establishment." "The Establishment," meanwhile- having taken a spanking from the Cruz nomination- will recognize that victory in November depends on nominating a candidate acceptable to the Right.

In other words, pretty much the same scenario that played out in 1968 will repeat itself in 2020. In 1968, the candidate the "Establishment" and the Right agreed upon was Richard Nixon- who beat a far more formidable Democratic candidate  in Hubert Humphrey than Hillary would be even if she were an incumbent seeking re-election. Seldom in modern times has either party won three presidential elections in a row. The Republicans would be in an even stronger position in 2020 than they are today, and every possible circumstance would conspire to see that they don't blow it again, as it continues to look likely that they will in 2016.

If Cruz- whom I dislike, distrust, and consider only marginally more fit to be president than Hillary Clinton- wins the nomination, I will vote or him. I will vote for him without either enthusiasm or hope, but also without hesitation.

But if, as Jack Kilcrease points out, Donald Trump is the nominee, a much darker scenario will play out. Trump may attract some Democratic votes, but roughly a third of Republicans say that they'd either stay home on Election Day, vote for a third party candidate, or even vote for Hillary if Trump is nominated. Combine that with the fact that Trump is viewed negatively by 60% of the electorate, and you have a recipe not merely for disaster, but for cataclysm.

Trump would lose in a landslide far more crushing than that which would bury Cruz. The Republicans would not only lose the Senate but conceivably the House as well. Hillary might well have a free hand, with the crazy Left controlling not only the presidency but both houses of Congress. What role Bernie Sanders and his followers might play in the low comedy that would follow I don't even want to speculate about.

But there would be no effective opposition. Nobody disposed to do so will be in a nationally prominent enough place that he or she can effectively oppose Hillary. The Republican brand would have on it a moral stain that will not fade away for a generation. The GOP will have become a powerless, marginal joke that nobody takes seriously- or should. The conservative movement will be in a shambles. And as crazy, as un-American, and as bizarre as what the Democrats do to the country in the next four years might be, it may well be accepted simply because there's nobody of any consequence in a position to oppose it effectively.

We as a nation will continue along the self-destructive path we've already blazed with Roe and Obergefell and the Obama disaster, with no effective check on the damage the Left can do. And for at least eight years and maybe more, there will be no way back.

But that's not the worst thing. The worst thing would be that, as Kilcrease points out, The GOP would not simply have lost an election. It would have lost its soul. That is the automatic consequence of nominating Trump, no matter what else might happen. The Republican party will no longer be the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and Ike and Reagan. It will no longer even be the party of Coolidge and Jerry Ford.

It will be the party of Donald Trump, damned by history. So yeah, I'd rather see Ted Cruz get the nomination. Even that.

But maybe this thing won't come to either outcome. Maybe Rubio or Kasich or both will win their home state primaries. Maybe neither Trump nor Cruz will have the delegates needed to win the nomination at Cleveland (though a word of caution is in order: by all historical precedent, all either will have to do would be to come close- maybe within a hundred votes, or even a few more- to win over enough opportunists to make up the difference).

Maybe the GOP will emerge from Cleveland with a disaffected bunch of Trump supporters who will irrationally believe that the nomination has been stolen from them, but who will be unable to do nearly as much damage to the Republican party as nominating Trump would have done. Maybe the Republican party will save itself from disaster, and yet go on to beat Hillary Clinton in November behind a candidate at least that segment of the party that believes in the Bill of Rights and basic American values can unite behind.

Maybe there will be a happy ending after all. But the odds of that happening depend to a huge extent on what happens on Tuesday, March 15- what I call, with very little overstatement from the point of view of the Republican party, "Armageddon Tuesday."

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