If Super Tuesday is a done deal, then what

Two things are likely to happen as voters in a dozen states head to the polls on Super Tuesday: Hillary Clinton will further cement her likely Democratic nominee status and Donald Trump will move closer to becoming the GOP standard-bearer that few in the party establishment want.

Clinton came close to ending the Democratic race with her emphatic, 47 percentage point victory over Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Saturday in South Carolina. Sanders on Tuesday will likely take his home state of Vermont and has a chance in Oklahoma, Minnesota, Massachusetts and Colorado.

But even in those states, the delegates will get split up pretty evenly so Clinton's big lead (aided by super delegates) will only keep growing. Clinton already leads Sanders by 544 to 85 delegates after the first four contests. She will build on that lead Tuesday and probably put the nomination out of reach by March 15 which features contests in Florida and Ohio. She needs 2,383 delegates to lock up the nomination.

On the Republican side, despite frantic efforts by the establishment and ideological conservatives, Trump's momentum shows few signs of slowing. A national CNN/ORC poll out Monday showed Trump at 49 percent, 33 points ahead of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at 16 percent with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at 15 percent. Those numbers suggest none of the remaining GOP candidates could take down Trump, even if they somehow get him one-on-one.

Trump could come close to running the table Tuesday. He holds big leads in state polls from Massachusetts to Alabama. Cruz should be able to win his home state of Texas, though polling is all over the map in the Lone Star State. Should Cruz lose Texas to Trump, it would effectively end his campaign.

That would likely be the ideal result for Rubio, who is counting on a smaller field to give him a clearer shot at the front-runner. The Florida U.S. senator, who is on a scorched-earth campaign to discredit Trump as a "con man," will face his biggest test on March 15 when his home state votes in a winner-take-all primary with 99 delegates at stake. If Rubio can't beat Trump in Florida the race will effectively be over, though some Republicans hope to still deny Trump the 1,237 delegates needed to lock up the nomination before the GOP convention in Cleveland.

Rubio is not expected to win a single state Tuesday. He hopes only to keep it close and beat Cruz outside of Texas while continuing to add to his delegate count which currently stands at 16 to 82 for Trump and 17 for Cruz.

Under the brokered convention scenario, Trump will lead on the first ballot but without a majority. Then delegates will be free to move to other candidates such as Rubio or Cruz. In the unlikeliest of outcomes, the party turns to a consensus candidate not currently in the race like House Speaker Paul Ryan or 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney. These scenarios exist mostly in the fever dreams of an establishment terrified of a nominee with sky-high national negative ratings who spent Sunday declining on national television to issue a clear denunciation of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.


Super Tuesday: What Wall St. wants
Super Tuesday: What Wall St. wants   

But a brokered convention is certainly not impossible. In fact it would be required if Trump does not have a simple majority of the 2,472 delegates heading into Cleveland. Though parliamentary rules could change ahead of the convention, most delegates would only be bound on the first ballot. If Trump doesn't win then, these delegates could move to the candidate of their choice on subsequent ballots, including Ryan or Romney or anyone else at the convention.

But all of this assumes that the Trump Train slows significantly between now and June when the primaries end. If it doesn't, Trump will roll into the convention with a majority of delegates and a nomination few in the party elite thought possible just a few months ago.

The other big story on the GOP side was Rubio's increasingly pugnacious attacks on Trump as a "con man" with stubby little fingers. Seriously, on Sunday Rubio said, "You know what they say about men with small hands … you can't trust them."

Many pundits landed on their fainting couches over this, saying Rubio was dropping to Trump's level. Well, exactly. Trump has risen to dominance on crudeness and a general disregard for serious policy discussion, all of it lapped up by the media. Rubio is now at the center of the media conversation by adopting Trump's tactics. Will it work? Maybe not. But if you think your opponent is a joke, it makes sense to treat him that way.

—Ben White is Politico's chief economic correspondent and a CNBC contributor. He also authors the daily tip sheet Politico Morning Money [politico.com/morningmoney]. Follow him on Twitter @morningmoneyben.