And now there are only five. A dying race, ruled by a dying emperor, imprisoned within themselves in a dying land.
No, wait. That's 'The Dark Crystal'. In the GOP race, they're not dying quickly enough for anyone's tastes. (And not metaphorically enough for some, but that's a whole other story.) We are down to five candidates, with the departure of Thank-God-He-Failed-Or-They'd-Dredge-Up-Neil-in-2024 Jeb Bush: Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump.
More importantly, though, there are only three viable candidates; Kasich and Carson have struggled to break out of single digits, with Kasich's only finish within sniffing distance coming in New Hampshire, immediately after Rubio's worst debate performance. Neither one of them stands even a microscopic chance of getting the nomination. That puts it at a three-way race--Cruz, Trump, and Rubio.
I can pretty much guarantee you that the GOP establishment would just as soon it be Rubio. They're terrified of the possibility of Trump actually getting the nomination--he's a gaffe-prone disaster whose every utterance is an airborne toxic event, and having him tied to the Republican brand would be exactly what they don't want in an election year that's probably going to have pretty high Democratic turn-out anyway. Cruz has his own problems; he has historically not worked well with his fellow Republicans, and there's some bad blood there. So they want Rubio.
And Rubio is doable. Not easily, but he is. Cruz and Trump are basically drawing off the same pool of voters, and I don't realistically think that Kasich supporters will go to Trump or Cruz. Carson supporters may go to Trump or Cruz, but I don't think he'll leave the race for anything short of an autographed selfie with Jesus. Kasich, on the other hand, could be lured into conceding with the promise of political considerations either personal or for the state of Ohio. (What they used to call "bribes".) And Kasich plus Jeb equals probably about fifteen percent of the GOP vote, enough to shift the conversation if they all break for the same person.
So if Kasich is lured into conceding, and he endorses Rubio, Cruz and Carson and Trump split each other's votes and Rubio winds up being the nominee. Which means the Democrats will win, because he's a callow dimwit who's less interested in the actual business of governance than he is in imagining himself to be a bigshot politician, but it's not like Cruz or Trump are going to shear moderates away either. Basically, I think what Republican insiders are hoping for at this point is to nominate someone who isn't such an obvious hot mess that he screws up their chance to keep the House and Senate. If they win the Presidency as well, that's great, but they really just don't want to backslide.
If Cruz drops out, on the other hand, all bets are off. I don't see Rubio picking all of those people up, even if a lot of them probably wouldn't go to Trump either. (I assume that if you're a crazy religious libertarian nutbag and you haven't already supported Trump, it has to be due to personal antipathy.) That could deliver the nomination to Trump, who will probably explain three days for the election that this was all a Stanley Milgram-style psychological experiment to see if the American people would vote for the worst human being imaginable and that he really wishes President Clinton/Sanders the best of luck.
Hey--it could happen. Certainly wouldn't be any crazier than anything else this electoral cycle.