Which is frightening.
I think that if the GOP candidates had reduced their numbers earlier on there might have been more if a chance to stop Trump. But having so many candidates to choose from this late in the game has hurt any chance anyone might have had to beat him.
I'd argue it's the other way around.
Most of the early states decide their delegates proportionately which means if you're in the "anyone but Trump" camp (and while Cruz is hardly popular with the establishment it does appear they're more favorable to him then Trump at this point) then if Trump is to win the state it's better that he wins it at 40% of the vote (with the other 60% split multiple ways) and thus gets 40% of the delegates then it is for him to win at 55% in a one-on-one race. Having lots of candidates in a state which has proportional delegates tends to hurt the front runner, as while they may win they don't pick up an overwhelming number of delegates.
But now we're coming into states where it's winner takes all and there are a lot of delegates on the line. In such cases a split vote tends to help Trump as if he can pull 40% while the other 60% is split he'd take all the delegates home. So what those who are against Trump want is at least one candidate who can beat Trump in each state. Take the two big ones today, Florida and Ohio... both winner take all. In the perfect "anyone but Trump" world Rubio would have been able to do what Kasich did and win his home state and thus Trump, despite being a clear second in both and not that far behind the winner, would have no delegates to show for it. The way the campaign is structured if you want to hurt a front runner it's best to have lots of candidates early and then hope you can coalesce them behind one opposing candidate later on.
The issue with that tactic going forward seems to be that Cruz and Kasich are doing well enough that they can justify not dropping out but while they're both still arguing that they should be the one to take on Trump one-on-one any anti-Trump coalition that may form is still split between them... and with Trump tending to get around 40% of the vote it's very hard to see a split opposition beating him.
But if the establishment really
are thinking anyone but Trump then they don't really need to beat him in delegate numbers to beat him.
The number 1,237 is a vitally important one for the Republican candidates because it's the number of pledged delegates they need to claim an overall majority and thus the candidacy; unlike the Democrats they don't have super-delegates to get anyone over the final hurdle. And the Ohio loss hurts Trump because now he likely needs to win all of the remaining states by at least 55% (although as above that only really matters in proportional delegate states) to get to that number and, especially if both Cruz and Kasich remain, that will be a real challenge.
And if Trump gets to the Republican convention with less than 1,237... even if he has a commanding lead in both delegates and the popular vote, even if he's won every state in the buildup, even if he has all the momentum... then he can still lose.
The key thing to remember is that pledged delegates only stay pledged (i.e. they have to vote in line with the public they represent) in the first round of voting. If there's not a winner in the first round? It's a free-for-all and delegates are free to change who they vote for. And just because a delegate is pledged for Trump doesn't mean they have to be a Trump supporter. They can be the opposite in fact... here's a Cruz supporter rather crowing about the process
. It's one of the issues anti-establishment candidates like Trump face; the very fact that they are outside the establishment means that they're also on the outside of the party machinery and processes. If you're in charge of picking who the delegates will be and you don't want Trump to be the candidate then it's not surprising that you'd pick delegates who when given a choice would vote for someone other than Trump. And if Trump doesn't get to 1,237 then they may get that choice in the second round of voting.
It would be the Republican party pressing the big red button and I'm not sure they'd do it. Right now it looks like even if Trump doesn't win outright over the course of the remaining states he's still going to have a big lead come the convention and if he walks into that convention as the "winner" of this campaign, even without having quite hit 1,237 delegates and the Republican establishment find a way to make someone else the candidate then it would likely be political suicide for them. Trump may or may not run as a third party candidate (if he did he'd likely struggle... or even find it impossible... to get on the ballot of every state considering the deadlines) but even if he doesn't there's going to be a whole load of people who voted for Trump in the primaries who would be absolutely disgusted and not vote for whoever the candidate does end up being. That doesn't just hand the Presidency to the Democrats... it likely hands the House and Senate to them as well. But maybe it's a price they consider worth paying. I think it's one of the reasons Trump keeps emphasizing bringing the Republican party together and how many new voters he's bringing in in his victory speeches; not just as an attempt to convince the powers-that-be to get behind him but also to point out what they'd be losing out on.
I followed the results through The Young Turks (unfortunate choice of name, but an openly pro-Sanders, anti-establishment online political news/discussion "channel") and they mentioned anecdotally that they were hearing of quite a few Democrats taking advantage of the semi-open nature of Ohio's primary (i.e you can change your party affiliation on the day of the vote to take part in the primary you'd prefer) to vote for Kaisch in an attempt to stop Trump. Chances are it makes no difference in Ohio itself... Kaisch and Hillary's wins were too big for some Sanders favouring Democrats switching to Republican to vote against Trump making a difference. But Illinois and Missouri are both also open primaries and the results there are very close; while Trump took Illinois easily Sanders is only a few percentage points behind Clinton and in Missouri Sanders has a very slender lead over Clinton and Trump a tiny one over Cruz. People changing over to stop Trump in either of those two states may have a real impact on both the Democrat and Republican races.
As for Sanders, the suspicion is that this is it and he turns from a legitimate "he can win" type candidate to a message candidate staying in the race to make sure the issues he cares about get a public airing. Even setting aside super-delegates it's no longer enough for him to simply win states... he needs to win them big. Looked at on paper you'd probably see the remaining states as ones he stands a decent chance in but I'm not sure he can win them by enough to make up the gap there currently is. He's clearly staying in the race... his speech tonight was pretty gung-ho and he went after Clinton pretty heavily for her Wall Street speeches and big money donors... but I think he needed to win Ohio tonight to have a real shot at the candidacy. It's an interesting to "what if" to think about how things might have changed if the primaries were in reverse order; as it stands the states you'd expect Hillary to do well in (and she did) came first and it's only now that we start to come to the more favorable states for Sanders. How would things have changed if instead of Hillary running up an early and commanding lead in the south, largely due to the African American vote, it had been Sanders winning state after state and getting momentum?
Talking of Sanders speach and his words on special interests/big money donors, the Young Turks ran it pretty much back to back with Trump's own speech and it is interesting to note how many of their talking points are similar. Now, clearly they're different people with very different ideas on a number of positions and Sanders didn't hesitate from going after Trump over immigration (although as I've mentioned previously Sander's position on immigration a few years back used a similar logic to Trump's, even if they offered wildly different solutions). But both have made their anti-establishment nature and companies outsourcing and moving jobs out of America key parts of their campaign; if you removed the personal idiosyncrasies (Trump going "it's terrible" and "we don't win any more" for example) and just read a transcript then it wouldn't be immediately apparent which guy was talking. They have slight differences of course; Sanders tends to attack big money donors from the moral high ground while Trump runs a poacher-turned-gamekeeper act playing off his own history as one of the those big money donors and on jobs moving out Sanders focuses almost exclusively on China while Trump also mention Mexico but they both rail against the same things, are willing to name names (Sanders mentioned Goldman Sachs specifically tonight, Trump's called out the Club for Growth
by name and has made Carrier Air Conditioning and their decision to move a plant to Mexico the launching point for his spiel on bringing jobs back) and talk about the devastating effect it has had on the middle class. Linked to the jobs moving abroad point, they both also have very similar positions on trade deals like NAFTA and the TPP (both Trump and Sanders have called NAFTA a disaster) and both offer essentially the same solution (renegotiation on more US friendly terms).
As mentioned above that's not to say the Sanders and Trump are similar candidates; for all the things they come close to agreeing on they are miles apart on others and that's without touching on their personalities or demeanor. But if bringing manufacturing jobs back to the US and/or opposing special interests in politics are your big issues then it is possible to see why there's a slight undercurrent of both Sanders and Trump supporters who wouldn't be completely against voting for the other one if their preferred option doesn't make it to the ballot. Obviously one shouldn't read too much into internet comments but that sentiment wasn't a particularly unusual one to find in either of the big Trump or Sanders places on Reddit, at least until the events in Chicago where it became more about Trump vs Sanders then both attacking the establishment and special interests.