Below is an excerpt from Potomac Research Group Chief Political Strategist JT Taylor's Morning Bullets sent to institutional clients each morning.
After a dozen debates, Marco Rubio finally nailed one, but it may have come too late for the Senator. With only four days to go before the make-or-break-FL vote on Tuesday, Rubio's performance is sure to give him some badly-needed oxygen, but it's unclear whether it will be enough to dethrone Donald Trump. It was also good news for Ted Cruz and John Kasich, who don't have a shot in the state, but need to deny Trump its 99 delegates in order to have a path forward. Trump turned the theatrics way down last night as part of his recent pivot to a more 'presidential' demeanor -- but it was clear who the alpha dog was on stage, with Cruz the only one willing to take him on directly. Last night's debate was, mercifully, the most civil and policy-oriented to date with Cruz, Kasich and Rubio leading the charge on wide range of issues -- but when the frontrunner's shallow grasp on any given topic doesn't seem to matter, its impact is largely a matter of optics, not substance.
To ensure that any good news from last night's debate is overshadowed going into the weekend, Trump has secured the endorsement of his onetime rival Ben Carson with an announcement to come at a 9am presser today. While his support has dwindled over the course of the primary, he still has a very loyal following and may augment Trump's current lead in Carson's home state of FL.
Donald Trump is poised to clean up on Tuesday, putting the party on the verge of crowning a nominee before its Democratic rivals -- a scenario that would have been inconceivable just a few months ago. We've noted that Hillary Clinton's delegate lead was insurmountable, allowing her to shift her focus to running against Trump in the general election -- now Bernie Sanders' surprise win in MI has forced Hillary to turn her attention back to becoming her party's nominee. With Hillary refocused on Sanders, it gives Trump all the more room to secure his delegate lead, and avoiding the flak that he would otherwise be getting from her and the Democratic party.
HILLARY VEERS LEFT
Sanders' resiliency has forced Clinton to shift her campaign message to cater to his supporters. In many ways she's now running the campaign that Sanders hoped for with regard to the issues, but at the same time she is trying to paint Sanders as a conservative stooge on gun rights, the Ex-Im bank, and even the minutemen militias patrolling the Mexico border -- while herself outflanking Obama to the left on immigration. The farther left Clinton ventures, the more difficult it will be for her to swing back to the center for the general -- and TPP is only the first casualty of this shift.
Being the frontrunner with a sizeable delegate lead, and having a devoted support base that won't budge is the typical dream of a presidential candidate. Labeling himself as a 'unifier' and an 'asset' to the party because he brings out more voters, Trump's new tack belies his divisive rhetoric -- including his newest statement about Islam. Trump is only expanding his own support base, not the party's, and he is narrowing his chances of winning in the general election every time he steps up to the mic.
STICKS AND STONES
Trump is spending more money in FL and OH than he has done in recent states, to bolster his dominance in earned media -- which so far has played in his favor. Knowing that this is a chance to knock out two opponents and seal the deal for the nomination, he's spent $1.2 million in FL and just over $800k in OH. He'd be the first to say that this is pocket change for him, but that figure is dwarfed by the combined spending of his rivals and the anti-Trump superPACS, which have dumped well over $10 million into the two states. The anti-Trump movement is rushing to throw all they can at Trump before Tuesday, but we again doubt it will stick to the Teflon Don.