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Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz did a number on Donald Trump by going after him about, well, everything. And because they spent so much energy trying to chip away at Trump’s veneer, they didn’t have much time left to talk policy, so they didn’t do much to help themselves. As a result, John Kasich emerged as the clear winner of the debate.

Sort of. Sure, he managed to stay above the juvenile pissing contest the other three were engaged in and was able to discuss, if somewhat abstractly, his platforms and policies. Just listening, Kasich easily got the biggest cheers of the night that weren’t a result of flinging insults at the Donald, and a Frank Luntz focus group held immediately after the debate crowned him the champion with 18 of 25 saying he did the best. Cruz was second with six, Trump with one, and Rubio with zero. Not to mention that the primaries are about to move onto more supposedly Kasich-friendly turf, with Main, Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, and his home state of Ohio coming up on the docket. (Note: Kasich’s getting killed in states that have been polled.)

But so what? If this debate really does help Kasich and he wins or at least finishes well ahead of Cruz and Rubio, he’ll only be fulfilling the pseudo-agenda Romney prescribed in a speech yesterday:

Given the current delegate selection process, this means that I would vote for Marco Rubio in Florida, for John Kasich in Ohio, and for Ted Cruz or whichever one of the other two contenders has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state.

It’s not much of a strategy. It basically means slowing down Trump just enough that he doesn’t surpass the delegate threshold required to obtain the nomination and then handing it to someone else. Kasich emerging as the victor of this debate, and perhaps as a more serious contender given this performance and the landscape of many upcoming primaries, is only going to split the establishment vote more. While Romney’s is a strategy that technically would be within whatever ‘rules’ they have, if The Donald has the most votes at the end of the day, shafting him of the nomination will set off a firestorm.

The biggest problem the GOP faces is that all three of their guys said they’d pledge allegiance to Generalissimo Trump should he be nominated in spite of having spent the entirety of the two hours going after him. It seems like a last-ditch effort to hide that the party is facing a serious crisis—I don’t believe it’s on the verge of splitting or completely collapsing (has everyone forgotten they’ll be fine down ballot in state and local elections?), but they’re going to have a real problem if they get to their convention and have to figure out which of the three moderately-popular candidates who aren’t in first place is going to get the nomination.

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