After South Carolina, beginning of the end for Cruz?
© Greg Nash

South Carolina's Republican presidential primary vote on Saturday produced the expected Trump victory and two surprises: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush exited the race after a less-than-10 percent vote; he left gracefully. The other surprise was Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Tillerson, Trump deny report of rift | Tillerson says he never considered resigning | Trump expresses 'total confidence' in secretary | Rubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad Rubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad with pro-communist posts GOP establishment doubts Bannon’s primary powers MORE's (Fla.) win over Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWhatever you think the Alabama special election means, you’re probably wrong This week: Congress gets ball rolling on tax reform Week ahead: Senators work toward deal to fix ObamaCare markets MORE (Texas). Serious people now believe that Cruz can't win the Republican nomination.

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No state in the nation is more tailor-made for the Texas senator than South Carolina. Less than 5 percent of South Carolina is Roman Catholic and almost 72 percent is evangelical Christian. Despite Cruz's pandering for white Christian votes, the majority voted for Trump. It appears that the mano a mano fight that Trump and Cruz engaged in the week before the voting convinced more to vote for Trump than for Cruz. Independent-minded Republicans broke for Rubio.

The result was that Cruz's odds of contention for the nomination have been greatly lessened. His carefully constructed scenario of winning South Carolina and carrying that win into the March Southern primaries is done. Cruz expected big wins because most of the South resembles South Carolina politically. Here enters Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pens op-ed on kindergartners learning tech Bharara, Yates tamp down expectations Mueller will bring criminal charges Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open MORE. He won South Carolina and he can be expected to do well in the SEC primary (nicknamed after the Southern-based college football conference). Cruz will win the Texas primary, but it is not winner-take-all.

Every Republican caucus or primary between now and March 12 allocates delegates proportionally. Thus, even if he sweeps Texas, Cruz will not get a large delegate win; he will have to share the 155 delegate pot with Trump and Rubio proportionately. The real delegate pots start on March 15 when Florida votes winner-take-all for 99 delegates along with other winner-take-all states such as Illinois (69 delegates), Missouri (52) and Ohio (66), followed by Arizona (58) on March 22, Pennsylvania (71) on April 16 and the greatest delegate pot of all, California with 172 delegates on June 7.

Then again, some of the winner-take-all-states are in reality winner-take-congressional district. Considering that Rubio did in fact beat Trump in two South Carolina counties he will undoubtedly win some of those key congressional districts; if he can beat Trump in counties, he can defeat Cruz.

Cruz, rigid ultra-conservative son of a Cuban-refugee-turned-evangelical-Protestant-pastor is a 10 to one shot in any state that is more Catholic than evangelical and most major states are more Catholic than evangelical. Moreover, they are more industrial than agricultural, more middle-of-the-road than SEC primary states.

Losing South Carolina diminishes Cruz's chance at winning the Republican nomination. Among all South Carolinian Republican voters, the exit polls tell us that on electability, Rubio received 49 percent support while Cruz was far back with 21 percent and Trump was behind Cruz with 18 percent.

Of import is how Ohio Gov. John Kasich (fifth in South Carolina with 7.6 percent) plans to continue. Ohio's primary with 66 delegates on March 15 is why he stays in. He will win what used to be called a "favorite son" candidacy. That will block Trump. Blocking Trump is crucial for Rubio's path to the convention in Cleveland. Like a football fullback, Kasich can block Trump long enough for the "establishment" to marshal its forces to push Trump into a political ditch.

Neither Trump nor Cruz have any chance of broadening the number of states previous Republican nominee Mitt Romney carried in 2012. If so, why allow them to carry the GOP banner into November for a predictable loss when Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies DNC, RNC step up cyber protections Gun proposal picks up GOP support MORE is being investigated by the FBI? Political observers say Kasich's Ohio is vital to victory. So Kasich will stay in until Ohio so he can control 66 delegates, without which Trump would have a difficult time getting to the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination.

Trump has yet to demonstrate much Republican voter support above the 32.5 percent he received in South Carolina. The nomination cannot be won with 32.5 percent. Two of three votes against Trump is 67 percent "no" on Trump. He appears to have possibly capped out at one-third of GOP votes. In coming days, we can expect to see a deluge of endorsements (e.g., U.S. Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerNevada senators urge airlines to enact new policies after Las Vegas shooting Dems plan to make gun control an issue in Nevada GOP establishment doubts Bannon’s primary powers MORE in Nevada, who just endorsed Rubio) and huge contributions to Rubio's campaign.

The November election will be won by the candidate that receives a majority of the white Catholic vote. It's been that way since the 1952 Eisenhower election. Marco Rubio is Catholic, Hispanic and 44 years old. Can any GOP or Democrat Presidential candidate match those six-decade-long winning political "qualifications"?

Contreras formerly wrote for the New American News Service of The New York Times Syndicate.