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Who will win tonight’s Nevada Republican caucuses by losing?

Justin Sullivan/Getty

If there has been one theme of the 2016 primary season, it’s been the rise of Donald Trump. But if there has been a second theme, it would be the idea of the winning loser. Marco Rubio won Iowa by coming in third and won South Carolina by coming in second. John Kasich won New Hampshire by finishing in the runner-up slot. Ted Cruz won New Hampshire and Iowa by coming in third

So what will the story be tonight? Cruz and Rubio are the most likely candidates to win by losing, and barring something catastrophic, both will certainly declare victory even though both will almost certainly lose. The GOP establishment circled its wagons around Marco Rubio after South Carolina, but if Cruz edges him out, he’ll almost certainly use it as proof that he, not Rubio, is the true non-Trump heir to the throne (that Donald Trump is sitting on). If Rubio comes in second again, we can expect him to continue to act like he’s the real frontrunner, even though it looks increasingly likely that he won’t win a single contest on Super Tuesday. 

Of course, there will only be one real winner of Nevada and that person will probably be the only candidate who can’t win by losing: Donald J. Trump.