There are only so many times that a bronze medal or worse can be spun as pure gold. When Marco Rubio came third in Iowa, he was able to do so because he exceeded expectations. When he came fifth in New Hampshire, it was put down to the hammering he took at the hands of Chris Christie during the previous Saturday’s debate. A 4/1 chance for the nomination at the time, there was value in believing that his broad appeal to the party establishment and sunny disposition would be enough to eventually clinch the prize.

But instead of focusing on an upbeat, uplifting message of hope and change, he decided to turn into a younger, less effective shadow of his former nemesis, Governor Christie. The fate of Christie should have been warning enough. In wielding the knife against Rubio, he had also fatally hurt himself. Now it was Rubio turning on Trump, mocking his ostensibly small hands and small whatever, and endlessly and robotically berating him as a con artist. This was designed as an appetiser for the main course of insult and invective launched against Trump by former Republican candidate for the Presidency, Mitt Romney. The net effect was to damage Trump. But, like Christie, he had also damaged himself, and came away from Saturday with a loser’s haul of delegates.

Meanwhile, Cruz has done not as well as Trump, but has exceeded expectations in doing not as well. The fourth horseman of this modern-day apocalypse, Governor John Kasich of Ohio, has struggled manfully to stay in the race, and has been able to do so because he has not under-performed expectations thus far in doing so badly in the delegate count.

So where do we turn next? Michigan will be interesting, and the polls are all over the place about that, but the next big, and probably decisive day, will be Tuesday March 15th - the fateful ides of March, when a slew of states go to the polls, including, most importantly the home states of Governor Kasich and Senator Rubio, which are Ohio and Florida respectively.

If Kasich loses Ohio, he will withdraw from the contest. If Rubio loses Florida, he will be under enormous pressure to do likewise. To win the nomination, Cruz needs Kasich and especially Rubio to drop out. So Cruz wants them to do poorly. However, they won’t drop out until after Ohio and Florida, which means if they do badly, Trump is likely to sweep up a huge swathe of delegates from these winner-take-all states. On the other hand, if they win, they are very likely to stay in. For Cruz this is a lose-lose situation. Should he wish for Rubio and Kasich to do well or badly on the 15th? Poor Ted!

The best outcome Cruz can hope for is for Rubio and Kasich to do just enough to win Florida and Ohio respectively, so denying Trump his delegates, but to do so badly elsewhere that they drop out anyway. Not impossible, but unlikely.

So what if nobody wins enough delegates to secure a majority at the nominating convention?

In such a situation, the party could turn outwards, to anoint a saviour who has not been damaged by the internecine warfare that has brought the party to the impasse it will have found itself in. They have done similar before, when they could find nobody among the leading contenders who could command the support of the Republicans in the House of Representatives. Then they found someone who at first said he wasn’t interested but later relented. They could also pick someone who is currently second in line to the Presidency, after Joe Biden. Or they could pick someone who has already shown a taste for the White House, running as recently as 2012 for the Vice-Presidency of the United States. In fact, one man combines all these characteristics. He is the Speaker of the House of Representatives, he is second in line constitutionally to the Presidency, and he was the running-mate of Mitt Romney in the 2012 Presidential election.

His name is Paul Ryan. He is currently trading at attractively long odds to be the Republican nominee and much longer odds to be the next President of the United States. To a small stake, the best odds available on either of these options look very tempting indeed.

Follow Leighton on Twitter @leightonvw

Paul Ryan - 1pt @ 500.0