A surprise in Michigan is not impossible. Kasich is clearly trending higher following his strong debate performance last week. But the anti-Trump vote remains splintered between Kasich, Cruz and Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. And much of the advertising by outside groups against Trump is focused on March 15 states, mainly Florida. Cruz's "Southern strategy" does not appear to have caught on in Mississippi where Trump dominates in nearly every poll.
So the narrative coming out of Tuesday night is likely to be Trump regaining traction. But that doesn't mean the effort to stop Trump from getting the 1,237 delegates he needs to lock down the nomination before the convention in July is dead yet. Because Trump does appear to be hitting something of a national wall as the impact of negative ads and stories about his cracking down on protesters, urging supporters to take a pledge reminiscent of the Nazi salute and engaging in unsavory business practices appear to be denting his national lead.
Trump's lead is now just 9 points over Cruz in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. Instead of consolidating support as other candidates drop out, Trump is falling while Cruz, Rubio and Kasich are all gaining ground. Perhaps even more significant, Trump trails both Cruz and Rubio in hypothetical one-on-one matchups.
While this Tuesday's results are important, the big game takes place next Tuesday with contests in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Missouri and Illinois. The outside groups targeting Trump are putting much of their money into ads in Florida. Polls currently show Trump leading in the state but the hope is that those who have not already voted early will change their minds by the time they hit the voting booths. Trump fared badly among late deciders in both Louisiana and Kansas over the weekend.
But again there is the problem of a splintered non-Trump field. Cruz is making a late play in Florida not to win the state but to deny a victory to Rubio in hopes that a home-state loss will drive the Florida senator out of the race. It's a very risky strategy because torching Rubio could help Trump maintain his lead and win the state and all of its 99 delegates.