The chatter about Donald Trump's looming "collapse" was hard to avoid. On Saturday, the Republican won two contests by narrower-than-expected margins while losing two others, and there was some polling that suggested his dominance over the Republican presidential field was waning.
Had Trump peaked? Were his many messes catching up with him? Perhaps his long-predicted decline was at hand? Last night offered a clear answer to each of these questions: No. As MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin summarized:
Donald Trump shrugged off continuous attacks from his rivals, damaging stories in the press, and regular confusion over his own policy platform to end the week where he began: the front-runner for the Republican nomination.
Because some of yesterday's contests were out West, they weren't called until early this morning, but as things stand, Trump easily won Michigan, Mississippi, and Hawaii, by margins ranging from 9 to 12 points. Ted Cruz won Idaho by an even wider margin, but finished second in the other three.
John Kasich finished third in Michigan and Mississippi, and fourth in Hawaii and Idaho. Marco Rubio, meanwhile, didn't even break double digits in Michigan and Mississippi, and is now effectively playing the role of a spoiler candidate.
Stepping back, let's again try to cut through the noise and break things down from a pitch-vs-hype-vs-truth perspective.
The Pitch: Can you think of another candidate who is capable of landslide victories in states as varied as Mississippi, New Hampshire, and Nevada?
The Buzz: Maybe all of that "Trump is in decline!" chatter was a little premature?
The Truth: If there were questions about the GOP frontrunner's strength as the race turns towards the final stretch, Trump answered them last night. Whether or not he'll be able to lock up the Republican nomination before the convention is still unclear -- it may depend on who, if anyone, drops out -- but after last night's victories, Trump's destiny is his own.
The Pitch: Sorry, Republican establishment, you're stuck with either me or Trump. You may hate me, but just how much do you hate me?
The Buzz: The political world resisted the idea for months that Cruz would be, or even could be, Trump's principal rival for the nomination. That resistance has now evaporated.
The Truth: When Cruz calls on Rubio and Kasich to quit, it may be self-serving campaign rhetoric, but he's not wrong. In a one-on-one fight, the Texas Republican may actually be competitive against Trump, but in a four-person field, and with much of the South having already voted, Cruz may be stuck in the #2 slot.
The Pitch: Were it not for Rubio playing the role of spoiler, we would have finished second in Michigan!
The Buzz: Kasich may have a shot in Ohio, but he can't seriously expect to be the nominee with only one victory.
The Truth: For all the talk about Kasich coming on strong over the last several days, he still couldn't finish better than third in any of yesterday's contests. If the governor expected to ride a modest wave of momentum into next week's primaries, he's no doubt disappointed. Still, if Rubio ends up quitting, Kasich will gladly stick around for a while longer.
The Pitch: We didn't really like any of these states anyway.
The Buzz: Rubio is not only embarrassing himself with these lopsided defeats, he isn't doing his future lobbying career any favors.
The Truth: There is such a thing as losing well, but Rubio hasn't learned the skill. He invested heavily in Michigan, and finished a distant fourth (out of four). He campaigned in Idaho with one of the state's most popular politicians, and finished a distant third. In Michigan and Mississippi, Rubio couldn't even reach double digits and fell short of the delegate-eligible threshold. The longer the Florida senator sticks around, the more likely it is he'll be remembered as the candidate who helped Trump secure the Republican nomination.