Four states voted on Tuesday night in the latest set of contests in the respective races for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations. It was a very good night for Donald Trump and a very bad night for Marco Rubio. Bernie Sanders scored an upset in Michigan that suggests the Democratic race might continue for months.
I picked a handful of the best and the worst from the night that was. They're below.
*Donald Trump: The talk of the last few days — especially here in Washington — centered on the possibility of the Trump bubble having, finally, burst. Two national polls released on Tuesday showed him with a shrunken lead over Ted Cruz; many people looked to Michigan and Mississippi to see if Trump might underperform or even lose in those two states. Nope! Michigan was called for Trump as soon as polls closed across the Wolverine State at 9 p.m. Eastern time, and Mississippi was called for him just 30 minutes after polls closed there. The Mississippi exit polls are instructive as to Trump's dominance. Trump won those who identified as "very" conservative, "somewhat" conservative and moderate/liberal. That's, well, all of them.
This was a night that sets up Trump perfectly for March 15 when, if he wins Ohio and Florida, the race will be effectively over. He will almost certainly be the momentum candidate going into those states next week. And the struggles of Marco Rubio — more on that below — only make Trump's path easier.
* Bernie Sanders: Yes, the Vermont senator got destroyed in Mississippi. But, in the bigger and high-profile state of Michigan, Sanders heavily overperformed polling that showed Clinton ahead by 20 points or more. Winning a big Midwestern state is of deep symbolic importance for Sanders, who was on the verge of being cast as a nuisance candidate by many Democrats.
Sanders may have also found an issue where he can do real damage to Clinton as the campaign goes forward. Almost 6 in 10 Michigan Democratic primary voters said international trade takes away U.S. jobs, according to exit polling. Among that group, Sanders won by roughly 20 percentage points over Clinton. That could — and should — bode well for his efforts in Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and other states where international trade has ravaged the economy. "What tonight means is that the Bernie Sanders campaign ... is strong in every part of the country," Sanders said in brief remarks in Florida Tuesday night. "We believe our strongest areas are yet to happen."
Sanders had previously pledged to stay in the race through the June 7 primaries and, as I've noted, he has plenty of money to do so. Now he has even more reason to stay in.
*Paul O'Neill: The former Yankee (and Reds) outfielder was in attendance at Trump's rally in Florida. And, of course, Trump cajoled an endorsement out of the former slugger and then spent the rest of his victory news conference touting O'Neill's support. I — and most of the rest of the country — probably hadn't thought about Paulie in years. But, on Tuesday night, he was back on center stage.
* Trump, the Brand: Trump Steaks! Trump Water! Trump Wine! Trump Magazine! Trump Golf Club! Trump celebrated himself during his victory speech/press conference Tuesday night. Not only did he bring steaks, water and wine to his rally, he spent a good chunk of his actual speech talking about how great they are and how successful each of his businesses are. It was surreal -— until you stop and remember this is Donald Trump we're talking about.
*Abe Lincoln: "Very presidential," according to Trump. I am sure Honest Abe would have loved Trump wine if he had ever got the chance to try it.
* Marco Rubio: Oomph. Rubio finished WAY off the lead in Michigan and Mississippi and looked to be in very serious danger of not qualifying to win a single delegate from either. (A candidate needs 15 percent statewide to get delegates in Michigan and Mississippi.) Even as those terrible results were coming in, Rubio continued to insist that Florida was the only state that mattered.
Well, um, okay. It was hard to see Rubio winning Florida before Tuesday night. It's even harder to imagine him winning it now since the next seven days will be filled with questions about (a) whether he is staying in the race and (b) whether he should stay in the race. Rubio, who is still in his early 40s, has to consider his future — and fast. Losing Florida — particularly if he loses badly — could damage Rubio's political career going forward on both the state and national levels.
* Mitt Romney: The 2012 nominee claimed credit for slowing Trump down after the votes on Saturday, telling "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd on Sunday that his speech discrediting the former real estate mogul mattered. Um, maybe not? Michigan, as you might remember, was a state that Romney's father, George, represented as governor and one that Mitt won in the 2008 and 2012 GOP primaries. So ...
* Phil Bryant: The Mississippi governor waited until the last minute to make an endorsement in the Republican race. On Monday night, he endorsed Ted Cruz. Whoops! The Trump steamroller came through the Magnolia State and left Bryant and lots of other establishment Republicans scattered by the side of the road.
* The backdrop for Bernie Sanders's speech: Three small campaign signs stapled together against a plain wood background? This is Miami! We could't do any better than that, Bernie people?