March 16, 2016 9:21 AM EDT

Two is more than three, but is it better than one? That’s the question GOP strategists are puzzling as Marco Rubio exited the race leaving Ted Cruz and John Kasich as the party’s last hopes for stopping GOP front-runner Donald Trump. Tuesday’s results pushed Rubio from the race as Trump won at least three of the states—and likely four, if his razor-thin margin in Missouri holds—while Kasich picked up his home state of Ohio. But Trump is still behind on the race for the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination. Trump needs to win 50% of the more than 1,000 delegates remaining to lock in the nomination by the first ballot in Cleveland—a tall order given delegate apportionment rules in the GOP. That means Trump’s path to winning a majority grew slimmer Tuesday, while the prospects of a contested convention greatly increased.

Kasich, who has no mathematical path to winning 1,237 short of a contested convention, argues that a three-man race is the best way to stop Trump, as he and Cruz appeal to different wings of the GOP that dislike Trump as much as they dislike each other. This triangulation strategy, Kasich’s campaign says, would rely on Cruz’s strength out West, and Kasich’s strength in more moderate states, to force multiple ballots. The Cruz campaign rejects that strategy, arguing that a two-man race, and the stark choice it offers, is the only way to block Trump. Cruz’s aides point to head-to-head surveys showing he wins outright if he’s alone with Trump in the states, which would allow him to swiftly make up his nearly 300-delegate deficit off the front-runner.

The Republican contest now shifts to Arizona, where Trump is favored, and to Utah, where the Trump alternatives have a far better shot, before entering “spring break”—a month when just 134 delegates will be awarded in a handful of contests. The break will allow the anti-Trump forces more time to organize their advertising and message, but they’ll also test the organizational and financial stamina of Trump’s rivals who lack significant momentum in the long slog for delegates.

On the Democratic side, it’s been over for weeks, but now it’s really over. Barring acts of God or the FBI, Bernie Sanders is now mathematically out of the running for the Democratic presidential nomination after Hillary Clinton scored wins in at least four of the five states voting Tuesday—and all five, if early results in Missouri hold—increasing her delegate lead to 300, even before super-delegates are considered. Sanders would need a super-majority of the delegates remaining to come back, which would require massive wins in states where he does not have massive leads, and his campaign is now arguing it can appeal to super-delegates—most of whom are backing Clinton. Don’t bet on it. The scenes of celebration spread on social media from Clinton’s headquarters made clear they think the race is over, and more importantly, are not afraid to say it.

Tuesday’s results offered reason for pause for both front-runners, as voters, particularly voters in GOP primaries, expressed dissatisfaction with the potential for a Trump-Clinton general election match-up.

President Obama will reveal his nominee for the Supreme Court at 11 a.m. Wednesday in a Rose Garden address, the White House announced, but don’t expect it will go far as Senate Republicans have pledged to block the nominee from even receiving a hearing, let alone a vote. But that’s just fine with the White House, which sees it as yet another opportunity to highlight congressional dysfunction.

Here are your must-reads

Must Reads

Why a Contested GOP Convention Just Got More Likely
Delegate math makes for difficult path for Trump [TIME]

The Warning Sign in Hillary Clinton’s Great Night
TIME’s Sam Frizell on potential Clinton vulnerabilities in the general

Bernie’s Best Week Ever Falls Flat
Everything went Sanders’ way after Michigan. But the momentum did not come [BuzzFeed]

Donald Trump and the Fall of the Republican Campaign Guru
It’s not the just the candidates who have been disappointed [New York Times]

Obama to Announce Supreme Court Nominee at 11 a.m.
Nomination unlikely to progress through GOP Senate

See Whether Republicans Can Stop Trump With This Delegate Calculator
TIME’s delegate calculator

Sound Off

“I ask the American people: do not give into the fear, do not give into the frustration.” — Marco Rubio encouraging the GOP to steer away from Donald Trump in his concession speech Tuesday

“Someday when we take it all they’ll understand.” — Donald Trump on his critics who doubt he’ll win the nomination

Bits and Bites

Why Donald Trump’s Endorsements Have Been Unusual [TIME]

President Obama Denounces Violence at Trump Rallies [TIME]

Republican Senators Take Trump’s Side, But Won’t Say His Name [TIME]

A King in His Castle: How Donald Trump Lives, From His Longtime Butler [New York Times]

Christie Says He Brings ‘Sense of Calm’ to Trump Rallies [CNN]

Magic Is a ‘National Treasure,’ Declares Texas Congressman Pete Sessions [NBC]

Bernie’s Longshot Victory Strategy [Politico]

More Must-Read Stories From TIME

Contact us at

You May Also Like