Presenting your Super Tuesday field guide

Is this the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end? That’s what Republican voters in 11 states will decide today as they head to the polls and caucuses to determine whether they are content with their frontrunner, Donald Trump, or ready to shake things up.

The only state of the 11deciding today in which Trump does not lead pre-election polls is Texas, where favorite son, Sen. Ted Cruz, seems to have the edge. But elsewhere, it looks like Trump by a mile. In some spots where blue-collar white voters dominate, like Alabama and Massachusetts, Trump’s lead in some polls crosses into the stratosphere.

Overall, however, the shape of the race in the Super Tuesday states looks more like what we saw in Iowa and South Carolina: Trump is ahead but Sens. Marco Rubio and Cruz are within hailing distance and splitting up half of the vote or so.

Let’s consider some scenarios:

Say goodnight - If Donald Trump has been helped rather than hurt by the sustained attacks on his business record and character by Cruz and Rubio, and if the Republican electorate has really accommodated itself to the idea of the celebrity billionaire as its standard bearer, it could all be over by midnight. Should Trump win all 11 contests or dominate 10 and come close in Texas, you can go ahead and call him the presumptive nominee.

A longer road - Past could be prologue for today’s contest, and that’s still good news for Trump overall. If the polls are predictive, which they have mostly been so far, then Trump’s advantage is in the limited success of his rivals. If Trump wins 40 percent of the nearly 600 delegates on the table, but Cruz and Rubio remain knotted behind him, then Trump would continue to march on to victory. It would take longer, but a split decision in the rest of the party would mean continued division and possibly even the continued candidacies of Gov. John Kasich and Ben Carson. This is the one in which we hear a lot of palaver about a brokered convention.

Reset button - It’s only as late in the game as Republican voters think it is. Trump triumphalism, greeted by cheers in some quarters and baleful tears in others, is a state of mind. While nearly a quarter of delegates are on the table today, 71 percent of all delegates will still be untouched on Wednesday morning. There are more delegates available in the two weeks after today, many in winner-take-all contests, than in every contest so far. If Republicans are getting cold feet about Trump and he is losing some of his luster, today could be the hinge on the gate that swings the election into a new phase. Rubio needs a moon shot to pull this off, but that could begin tonight.

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