ANALYSIS: Trump Delivers Another Blow to GOP Establishment as Rubio Fades

PHOTO: Donald Trump, left, and Marco Rubio speak at campaign rallies.PlayAP Photo
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The Trump train is rolling right over and through the assembled GOP establishment. And the list of candidates who can plausibly hope to stop it -- even if they’re banking on a contested convention -- is shrinking.

Voting in Michigan and Mississippi confirms that Donald Trump is as dominant as ever in big primary contests, with Trump feasting on regions where his rivals were supposed to hold natural advantages. The projected win in Mississippi continues a sweep of the Deep South by a candidate whose main opponent tried to tag him as representing “New York values.”

Mitt Romney’s warnings and millions of dollars in outside spending has had no discernible impact on the voters who continue to flock to Trump, despite the continuing weaknesses in his candidacy. Trump’s main rival now, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, sees many of his supposed strongest states behind him and is in many ways less liked by the GOP establishment than Trump himself.

“It shows you how brilliant the public is,” Trump said at his news conference tonight.

In now-familiar refrains, Trump is winning by appealing to an angry electorate that has rallied behind what serves as his policy agenda. Voters are even increasingly convinced that he is the GOP’s best choice in November, polling and the judgment of party leaders -- even voters’ own sense that he’s less than honest or worthy of their trust -- notwithstanding.

Meanwhile, the candidate whom the establishment has rallied behind as the most electable and most palatable -- Marco Rubio -- is continuing a remarkable fade that appears to have started around the time he began to attack Trump more aggressively.

Rubio’s vote totals appear likely to leave him ineligible for the vast majority of delegates in the biggest states voting tonight. For his campaign, it’s an eerie and dispiriting repeat of Super Tuesday, a week ago, despite huge sums dumped by his campaign and his super PAC.

Those deciding in the last few days in Michigan split their votes between Cruz and John Kasich -- and decidedly not Rubio. In Mississippi, Cruz and Trump were the choice of those who decided late, despite the “many horrible things,” in Trump’s telling, that were said about him over the last week.

The night sets up a frantic, week-long dash to the winner-take-all Republican contests in Ohio and Florida -- two big battlegrounds that happen to be the home states of Kasich and Rubio, respectively. Neither has a plausible path to the nomination without victories there; even with wins, their only realistic hopes rest on a contested convention.

If there’s hope for stopping Trump, it may come out of Cruz’s solidified place as the top alternative to the front-runner. Kasich could inherit establishment support from Rubio, especially since he appears more likely to win his home state as of now than Rubio does his own.

But the race seems unlikely to winnow fast enough for a head-to-head matchup against Trump where he’s vulnerable in the delegate count. On the flip side, it may also be incapable of sustaining enough delegate-winning candidates to deny Trump the nomination.

Either way, Trump is winning.