POLITICO Playbook: TRUMP TRIFECTA: Which conservative will go third-party? — RUBIO Silver State silver, Cruz tarnished

Good Wednesday morning. Drudge banner, with a pic of adoring fans greeting Trump: “THE NOMINEE”. @DRUDGE: “There has been little doubt for months… AND ZERO DOUBT TONIGHT!”

PLAYBOOK FACTS OF LIFE: If someone told you one month ago that a GOP candidate would finish second in Iowa and than easily win in N.H., S.C. and Nevada, you would call that person the Republican nominee-in-waiting. This explains why most donors are throwing in the towel on a dump Trump campaign. Mara Liasson said Mondayon the NPR Politics podcast that if it were anyone besides Trump, “we’d call him the PROHIBITIVE frontrunner” — and that was before last night’s third victory in a row (each by 10 to 20 points!).

Cue stories on whether an establishment figure runs as third-party conservative — a prospect now more likely than Trump bolting the GOP for an independent run, and perhaps more likely than a brokered convention. Please send Playbook your list of conservatives most likely to do this: mallen@politico.com and dlippman@politico.com.

THAT SAID … This goes on for a long time because there are now three Republican parties: the Pissed Off (Trump), the Purists (Cruz) and the Realists (Rubio). Trump owns the angry and a slice of both other camps, which gives him his decisive edge in a three-way. But the other two would be insane to buckle before the bitter end. So expect a lot of 40–25–25 outcomes.

By Mike Allen (@mikeallen; mallen@politico.com) and Daniel Lippman (@dlippman; dlippman@politico.com)

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ARTICLE OF THE DAY — “Trump shatters the Republican Party: How the 2016 primary will define the GOP for years to come,” by Shane Goldmacher: “The populist billionaire’s rise … has upended what had been decades of relative GOP stability, a 40-year span in which most Republican presidential contests since 1976 neatly narrowed to an establishment-embraced front-runner and a conservative insurgent alternative. No more. Suddenly, there are three strands of the Republicanism, each entrenched and vying for supremacy.” http://politi.co/1R0H4sc

AP LATEST — GOP Nevada caucuses (100%; 75,216 total votes): 1) Trump, 34,531 (45.9%) … 2) Rubio,17,940 (23.9%) … 3) Cruz, 16,079 (21.4%) … 4) Carson, 3,619 (4.8%) … 5) Kasich, 2,709 (3.6%) … 6) Rand Paul, 170 (0.2%) … 7) Jeb Bush, 64 (0.1%) … 8) Christie, 50 (0.1%) … 9) Fiorina, 22 … 10) Huckabee, 21 … 11) Santorum, 11.

PLAYBOOK HIGHLIGHT REEL — “Rubio endorsement spree may be too late: The stars are aligning for Marco just as Donald Trump seems to be steamrolling,” by Anna Palmer and Eli Stokols: “[W]ith the primary electorate in such an anti-establishment mood this year, the avalanche of endorsements from venerable politicians could actually bury Rubio, not his opponents, by making him appear as the new avatar of the Washington political class many voters so detest.” http://politi.co/1QxsesQ

— “Mega-donors shy away from fight with Trump: Fearful of counterattacks, rich conservatives and their allies are mostly holding their fire,” by Ken Vogel and Isaac Arnsdorf: “As Donald Trump picks up momentum, the chances of a well-funded assault to block him from the Republican presidential nomination are dramatically dwindling.” http://politi.co/1VDFvnW

— “Bernie’s South Carolina surrender,” by Gabe Debenedetti in Columbia, S.C.: “With just a few days left until the South Carolina Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders is all but writing the state off. He hasn’t said that, of course, but his schedule reflects it.” http://bit.ly/1WIi8Kl

THINGS TRUMP SAYS — At a rally in Nevada yesterday: “I know why I get bad treatment in The New York Times. Because it’s owned by Mexico.” (Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim is a minority owner.) http://nws.mx/1OtT5V7

- Trump also still loves insulting people by comparing them to dogs — yesterday @realDonaldTrump tweeted: “Ted Cruz lifts the Bible high into the air and then lies like a dog -over and over again! The Evangelicals in S.C. figured him out & said no! … Wow was Ted Cruz disloyal to his very capable director of communication. He used him as a scape goat-fired like a dog! Ted panicked.” See HuffPost’s earlier compilation of 7 tweets in which Trump uses the phrase http://huff.to/1Wd4UVG

ROGER SIMON, “Trump is No. 1, but who’s his No. 2?”: Respected GOP operative “Tom Rath … was willing to provide a list. … Jeff Immelt … [Sen.] John Thune … Jeb Bush … Joe Scarborough … Charlie Baker: Republican governor of Massachusetts. … Roger Goodell … [Sen.] Tim Scott … the only African-American in U.S. history ever to be elected to both the House and Senate. … Oprah Winfrey.” With cameos by Juleanna Glover, Chris Lehane, Bill McInturff, Charlie Cook, Garry Wills http://politi.co/1S0DPWx

TOP TWEETS: @RyanLizza: “In the movie version of this campaign the final plot twist would be that Weaver and Murphy were secretly working for The Trump Organization” … @stuartpstevens: “There are no lanes. Whoever started this should be set adrift with person who taught waiters to introduce themselves” …@RalstonReports: “I have two words for any discussion of who finishes in second or third when it’s a 2–1 blowout: Who cares?” …

@jmartNYT: “Trump first major GOP prez candidate to not air Fox at election night parties since…network was created? … Why, among other reasons, Cruz don’t wanna drop: he assumes Trump loses general and wants a leg up in ‘20” … @BresPolitico: “Can you imagine Paul Ryan & Mitch McConnell standing with Donald Trump on a stage in Cleveland? That’s less than 5 months away” … @RichLowry: “Other candidates are probably kicking themselves for not coming up with Trump’s 2–1–1–1 strategy” … @daveweigel: “Trump: ‘I’ve been very nice to Rubio, because he hasn’t hit me. When he does, you will see what happens.’”

THE NARRATIVE — “Home Turf: Cruz, Rubio and Kasich all face must-wins in home states,” by AP’s Will Weissert in Austin and Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisc.: “Cruz, … Rubio and … Kasich are all facing enormous pressure in their home state primaries, which account for about a fourth of the delegates up for grabs in the next three weeks.” http://apne.ws/1Qxx1ug

** A message from U.S. Travel Association: Airports are essential to a robust American economy , but outdated infrastructure, reduced capacity and limited choices for travelers constrain efficiency and growth. FAA renewal should adjust the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) cap to help airports evolve and meet the demands of modern air travel. bit.ly/1QLPK5L **

DRIP, DRIP — WashPost A1, below fold, “Email-server testimony could rattle Clinton’s bid: Judge orders Democrat’s close aides to answer questions under oath,” by Spencer Hsu and Roz Helderman (online: “Aides’ email-server testimony could throw Clinton campaign a curveball”): “Judicial Watch … intends to seek sworn testimony from [Huma] Abedin as well as Cheryl D. Mills … [U.S. District Judge Emmet] Sullivan said he might … direct the State Department to subpoena Clinton, Abedin or others to return all of the emails … from Clinton’s personal email system … an ominous sign for Clinton that 31,000 emails she has said were purely personal and deleted could make their way into the public realm.” http://wapo.st/20UEqJX

WHAT THE WEST WING IS READING — “Americans’ Perceptions of Obama’s World Standing Improve,” by Gallup’s Justin McCarthy: “Forty-five percent of Americans believe world leaders respect President Barack Obama, up from 37% a year ago.” http://bit.ly/1WIi8Kl

OBAMA ALUMNI — “Jim Messina to advise David Cameron’s EU referendum campaign,” by Politico’s Nicholas Vinocur: “’Given these challenging economic times, the very last thing we should do is risk the U.K. and EU economies with this risky [Brexit] move,’ Messina [said]. … The former White House deputy chief of staff won’t run the ‘In’ campaign day-to-day but will be ‘heavily involved’ in strategy ahead of the June 23 Brexit referendum …

“Tara Corrigan, another Obama campaign veteran, will be working with Cameron’s team daily from London.” http://politi.co/1PYVw6n

COMING ATTRACTIONS — A defiant TED OLSON, former Solicitor General, representing Apple against the FBI, to CHARLIE ROSE, who has been big on the encryption debate: “We want the American people to debate this. Let’s have that debate where the elected representatives of the people sit in Congress, just down the street from here. … [E]verything is at stake because if the Constitution that protects privacy and intimacy and individual rights can be violated here, then it can be violated anywhere.”

— “Apple: Congress, not courts, must decide,” by AP’s Tami Abdollah: “Apple Inc. will tell a federal judge this week in legal papers that its fight with the FBI … should be kicked to Congress … Josh Earnest [said:] ‘Sending complicated things to Congress is often not the surest way to get a quick answer … In fact, even asking some of the most basic questions of Congress sometimes does not ensure a quick answer.’” http://apne.ws/1XM4lnd

SCOOP DU JOUR — “[Rep. Bill] Shuster lounges poolside with airline lobbyists as he pursues FAA bill: It’s the latest example of the Transportation Committee chairman’s coziness with the airline industry,” by Anna Palmer, Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan http://politi.co/1p3ixwh

N.Y. TIMES QUOTATION OF THE DAY — MITCH MCCONNELL, on his insistence that Obama not put forth a nominee to replace Scalia: “This nomination will be determined by whoever wins the presidency in the polls.” 2-col. lead of the paper, “G.O.P. SENATORS SAY OBAMA COURT PICK WILL BE SHUNNED: Republicans on Judiciary Committee Vow Confirmation Hearings Won’t Be Held,” by David Herszenhorn http://nyti.ms/1VDLGsf

— N.Y. DAILY NEWS cover, “DERELICTS OF DOODY: Senate GOP leaders sign letter vowing to defy Constitution and ignore ANY Supreme pick.” See the cover. http://nydn.us/vp5qdB

“How McConnell ditched all caution in Supreme Court fight,” by John Bresnahan and Burgess Everett: “With the Senate in recess, Republicans scattered across the country and a GOP presidential debate scheduled for later that night, McConnell knew he had to act fast or potentially lose control of the situation.” http://politi.co/1mWQGfv

45: THE NEXT ADMINISTRATION! JOHN BRENNAN, interviewed by NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly, hinted he wouldn’t mind staying on as CIA Director. http://n.pr/1T6kMf4

2016 PLAYERS — N.Y. Times A1, below fold, “The Sharp Elbows Managing Cruz’s Campaign,” by Matt Flegenheimer (online: “Behind Ted Cruz’s Campaign Manager, Scorched Earth and Election Victories”): “[H]is campaign has reflected … its principal architect: Jeff Roe, an operative with a reputation for scorching earth, stretching truths and winning elections. … At 45, with a lumbering swagger and drawling parables culled from the family farm, Mr. Roe … hired [Rick] Tyler … [B]ack home, Mr. Roe’s allies and opponents alike have seen a familiar imprint in the Cruz campaign’s recent exploits.” http://nyti.ms/1QbWryo

-”Cruz names Rick Tyler replacement,” by Katie Glueck: “[Alice] Stewart had been working as a senior communications adviser to Cruz and traveling heavily with his press corps. A veteran conservative operative, Stewart also previously worked for Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2016, as well as for Rick Santorum in 2012.” http://politi.co/21pWSfw

— “Koch brothers’ D.C. guru joins Marco Rubio”: “Marc Short, the Koch brothers’ top political adviser in Washington and a trusted member of their inner circle for five years, is making a surprise move to the Marco Rubio campaign as a senior adviser … Short — president of Freedom Partners, the Kochs’ umbrella political organization — will join the campaign in about a week and brings deep connections to the donor and grass-roots worlds. … Any decision [by the brothers] to get involved in the nomination race would likely come only if it narrowed to Trump and one of those senators.” http://politi.co/1oAnDj0

REMEMBERING BETSY FISCHER MARTIN’s MOM — Service today at 3 p.m. ET in Metarie, La.: “Sally Ford Fischer Pomeroy passed away peacefully on Sunday … She was in her Metairie home, surrounded by her loving family. Sally was … the loving mother of Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Fischer Martin (Jonathan) and Julie Fischer McCarter (Aaron) and the adoring grandmother of Ella Elizabeth Fischer Raineri. … Sally was born in Staten Island, N.Y., while her father was stationed there in the United States Coast Guard. She graduated from Florida State University College of Music, where she was a member of Zeta Tau Alpha sorority. Louisiana was home, and she happily resided in the New Orleans area for nearly 50 years.

“Sally sang for over 40 years in the New Orleans Opera Chorus, and also taught piano and voice privately. … Whether it was spreading the joy of music … or extending a deep and abiding love to her family, Sally was a selfless person … In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions in her memory be made to Parkway Presbyterian Church or the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation. An online guestbook is available at www.leitzeaganfuneralhome.com." Donation page, with pic of Mom, Bets and Julie http://bit.ly/1S0Dx28

SPIKE LEE’s 60-second radio ad for Bernie called “Wake Up”: “Wake up, wake up, South Carolina! This is your dude, Spike Lee. … For too long, we’ve given our votes to corporate puppets, sold the okie-doke. … Bernie takes no money from corporations. Nada! Which means he’s not on the take.” Listen http://bit.ly/1TFbPJi

DATA DU JOUR — “Abortion Clinics Are Closing At a Record Pace: At least 162 providers have closed since 2011,” by Bloomberg’s Esmé E. Deprez: “Since 2011, at least 162 abortion providers have shut or stopped offering the procedure, while just 21 opened.” http://buswk.co/ClinicClosures

SHOT — Quinnipiac Ohio poll (primary March 15), out at 6 a.m.: Kasich 54% to Clinton 37% … Trump 44% to Clinton 42% … Cruz 46% to Clinton 43% … Rubio 47% to Clinton 42%. http://bit.ly/1oGIq5a

CHASER — “Kasich: ‘I don’t know if my purpose is to be president,’” by Nolan McCaskill: A “supporter asked, ‘What are you gonna do to stick it to Trump, stick it to Rubio and live out your purpose?’ ‘I don’t know if my purpose is to be president,’ Kasich responded. ‘My purpose is to be out here doing what I think I need to be doing, and we’ll see where it ends up.’” http://politi.co/1Qxkffb

WHAT THE RIGHT IS READING — “Marco Rubio Plans to Skip CPAC, Pre-Eminent Conservative Gathering, in 2016,” by Breitbart’s Matthew Boyle: “In 2016, the conference will be held right after Super Tuesday from March 2 until March 5. … Both Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), as well as Dr. Ben Carson, have previously confirmed their attendance at CPAC this year … Rubio did, alongside his mentor former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, appear at the 2015 CPAC.” http://bit.ly/1PYEF3v

LATE-NIGHT BEST — “Watch Kevin Spacey, Jimmy Fallon Do House of Cards Kid Theater in an Acting Masterclass Led by Kids” — Video http://bit.ly/1TyAEVW

LIFE ONLINE — “Snapchat now gives you a special lens effect on your birthday,” by VentureBeat’s Ken Yeung: “Snapchat … has launched a new lens called Birthday Party that makes snaps look extra festive, and the only thing you have to do to enable it is make sure your birthday is added in the app. Birthday Party works like any other ‘lens,’ as Snapchat calls its photo and video effects — tap and hold on your face to enable the feature. Then you can send the image to a friend or post it to your story. Snapchat will also let you know if one of your friends has a birthday. Just keep an eye on your buddy list, and when you see a cake emoji next to someone’s name, activate the lens and snap away.” http://bit.ly/1mWMkVH

MEDIAWATCH — “CNN says it will no longer have Trump ally Roger Stone on air,” by Hadas Gold:”Stone had made disparaging remarks on Twitter about CNN political analyst Ana Navarro, which had recently been highlighted by Media Matters, a media watchdog group founded by Clinton ally David Brock.” http://politi.co/1Lb8S0x

— “Alex Wagner to be a guest contributor on The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth on Showtime”: “MSNBC analyst Alex Wagner will be a guest contributor to the Feb. 28 episode of THE CIRCUS airing this Sunday at 8 p.m. ET/PT. Wagner will join the team on the campaign trail in South Carolina this week in the final days before the Democratic primary.”

— “New York Times Announces First Recipients of David Carr Fellowship” — From “600 applicants … [the] 2016 David Carr Fellows are John Herrman, co-editor of The Awl; Amanda Hess, a staff writer at Slate; and Greg Howard, a staff writer at Deadspin. In the spirit of Mr. Carr’s legacy, the fellows will spend two years in The Times’s newsroom covering the dynamic intersection of technology, media, culture and race using a mix of engaging approaches to storytelling and news reportage.” http://bit.ly/1LbbsDA

FUTURE OF NEWS — “BuzzFeed Launches First Video App, Plans to Test Short Exclusives,” by The Wrap’s Joan E. Solsman: “[T]he company’s app users share content five times as much as a website visitor. If the video app can mimic that trend, the company could be set for another explosion in sharing. Launching the app also will let BuzzFeed experiment with exclusive windows on its video for the first time.” http://bit.ly/21pVbPd

WASHINGTON INC — “Top Cornyn Staffer [Jerr Rosenbaum] Joins HLP Advocacy” as partner:”Rosenbaum brings nearly two decades of federal legislative and political experience, recently serving as Legislative Director to Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX).” http://bit.ly/1QeDEG6

— “Democracy Partners Adds Two New Divisions, Announces Lupe Lopez as Partner”: The firm today will announce “the initiation of two new divisions-the Impact Philanthropy and Donor Advising Division [led by Ken Grossinger] and the Democracy Partners Institute.” http://politi.co/1p3j2q0

WHITE HOUSE DEPARTURE LOUNGE: Paul Bodnar’s jersey will soon be hanging from the rafters. Bodnar, an alum of the Clinton and Kerry State Departments, serves as the NSC Sr. Director for Energy and Climate Change, where he has been at the center of Obama’s international climate push (including the breakthrough on U.S.-China climate cooperation and the historic Paris agreement). Bodnar is now headed West — a bit further West than the West Wing — to Colorado.

OUT AND ABOUT : MPAA CEO and former Sen. Chris Dodd and Viacom EVP Dede Lea hosted an advance screening last night of the upcoming war comedy “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” based off Kim Barker’s experiences covering the Afghan war and the wacky life as a female foreign correspondent in Kabul. Dodd interviewed star Tina Fey, producer Lorne Michaels and screenwriter Robert Carlock before the screening at the U.S. Navy Memorial. The film, which had the audience laughing every minute or two, opens March 4.Pics http://bit.ly/1TFkvzp... http://bit.ly/1oGIRfV Trailer http://bit.ly/1STb2UY

— SPOTTED : Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden, Secretary Kerry, Sens. Shaheen, Brown, Franken, Boxer and Risch, Kate Bedingfield and David Kieve, Deesha Dyer, Reps. Ted Deutch and Adam Schiff, Marie Harf, Margaret Carlson, Chad and Beth Kreikemeier, Jen Haberkorn, Matt Cooper, Rebecca Berg and Brendan Buck, Garance Franke-Ruta, Todd Flournoy, Mark Shields, Michelle Kosinski, Kelley Hudak, British Ambassador Sir Kim Darroch (fresh off a trip to South Carolina to see presidential politics in action), Lois Romano, Steve Richetti, Patrick Kilcur, Chris Ortman, TJ Ducklo, Sam Newton.

BIRTHWEEK (was yesterday): Charles Sweeney, speechwriter extraordinaire … former de Blasio COS and DNC COO Amanda Howe, now planning Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s cocktail reception before WH State Dinner (h/t Ellen Qualls)

BIRTHDAYS : Frank Luntz (h/t Jon, Douglas) … Mark Salter, the pride of Davenport, Iowa … Kevin Lewis, White House alum, now DOJ press secretary … Paula Zahn is 60 … former Sen. Joe Lieberman is 74 … NYT’s Sabrina Tavernise … Kasich Rapid Response Director/Dep. Digital Director, Blake Waggoner is 3–0, celebrating tonight at The Pearl and this weekend with Kentucky bourbon (h/t Patrick Lee) … Nilda Pedrosa … Juliet K. Choi, USCIS Chief of Staff … Paula Zahn … Karen Olick, managing director at SKDKnickerbocker and Boxer alum (h/t Jon Haber and Teresa) … Secretary of the Senate Julie Adams (paw tip: Maggie) … former Sen. Zell Miller … Kevin Dando, PBS’ senior director of social media strategy and digital comms. … Kate Kelly of Interior … Chris Chocola, former Club for Growth President …

… Lindsay Hamilton, chief of staff at Center for American Progress (hubby tip: Phil Elwood) … Jacqueline Hackett … Allison Branca, assistant to the VP of comms. at Brookings … Reagan McGrath … Emily West … Commerce deputy secretary Bruce Andrews … “Fix Jr.” Cillizza (h/t D.J.) … Abram Olmstead, senior manager of digital strategic comms. at the U.S. Chamber … Richard Cohen … Jacqueline Hackett, drug-abuse prevention advocate and deputy director for policy at ONDCP … Peter Lovett … Nina Hutchison … Fred Martin … Sam Teller … Sam Novey (h/ts Teresa Vilmain) … actor Barry Bostwick is 71 … Edward James Olmos is 69 … Baseball Hall of Famer Eddie Murray is 60 … Sammy Kershaw is 58 … actor O’Shea Jackson Jr. (“Straight Outta Compton”) is 25 (h/ts AP)

** A message from U.S. Travel Association: How can Congress fix what’s wrong with flying? Adjust the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) cap to help airports improve outdated infrastructure, restore air service and competition, and adapt to post-consolidation air travel. FAA reauthorization is a critical moment to do this. The PFC user fee provides local authorities with the ability to finance airport infrastructure enhancements and address issues that benefit travelers, as opposed to the inefficient status quo that surrenders control to Washington. Without action to provide airports with necessary tools to modernize, air capacity constraints will severely limit economic growth. bit.ly/1QLPK5L **

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