The GOP Field After South Carolina

 Still a Three-Man Race

Trump Cruz and Rubio

After New Hampshire, and Kasich’s second place finish, the media did its best to convince us that we were witnessing a shake-up in the whole GOP race. Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, in that order, rounded out the top five in that primary. Having Bush finish over Rubio had the pundits debating whether Senator Rubio actually had a path to the nomination. Of course, for quite some time the polls had Trump winning and Kasich with a strong showing because that is where he spent most of his time and funding, but they like to spin!

Apparently, Senator Rubio’s stumble in one interaction with Chris Christie was enough to drag his numbers down, and move Bush up. However, despite the media predictions, neither Kasich nor Bush had a clear path beyond New Hampshire. The media frenzy notwithstanding, I opined it was a three-man race.

After ten days, endless hours of pondering by the pundits, and millions of dollars in advertising, guess what? It is still a three-man race. Trump came in first in South Carolina, with 32.5%, followed by Rubio with 22.5%, and Cruz with 22.3%. Jeb Bush came in fourth, at 7.8%, Kasich fifth with 7.6% and Carson with 7.2%. Bush had the wisdom and grace to suspend his campaign last night, going out with an emotive speech. Kasich and Carson are vowing to stay in and continue fighting the not so good fight. They are not doing themselves or the GOP any favors by doing so. The numbers speak loudly though, Kasich and Carson are on borrowed time.

During Trump’s victory speech last night, he condemned news organizations for saying that as the field continues to winnow, the orphaned supporters will not go to Trump. He thinks otherwise. We need to remember that Trump has never had more than thirty-five percent of support among GOP voters, which means that 65 percent of them do not like him. That is a significant number.

Although he is presently leading in the delegate count, he still has only four percent of the total delegates he will need to secure the nomination. Despite what you hear from the media, this race is far from over, and Trump is not our de facto nominee. Let’s break it down, using the South Carolina numbers.

Jeb Bush supporters will NEVER support Trump. They will most likely go to Marco Rubio, because Ted Cruz is too extreme for them. Add Bush’s 7.8% to Rubio’s 22.5%, and now Rubio is at 30.3%. It is just a matter of time before Kasich and Carson go the way of Jeb Bush, and if they want to help the party, they will do it sooner. Right now, they are just propelling Trump towards the nomination. Kasich supporters could possibly split between Trump and Rubio. Again, they will probably find Cruz too extreme. Add half of Kasich’s 7.6% to Donald Trump, which brings him to 36.2%, and half to Marco Rubio, which brings him to 34.1%.

The Carson folks will not go to Trump. Cruz has disenchanted them with his Iowa campaign shenanigans, so I think they will most likely get behind Rubio, especially if Ben Carson endorses Rubio. That now puts Rubio at 41.3%. As the field narrows further, it will have a deleterious effect on Donald Trump. Even if Cruz inherits some of Carson’s supporters, Trump’s numbers will still go down. Keep in mind that the next primaries are not “winner take all”. Their delegates will be divided proportionally.

Ted Cruz had the edge in South Carolina. He did not win one county in the state. With a large population of evangelical voters, (72%) they were supposed to be heavy in the Cruz camp, but Trump won 33% of their vote to Ted Cruz’s 27%, and Marco Rubio’s 22%. At this point in the primary, Ted Cruz is the candidate on the shakiest ground. His path forward really depends on the evangelical vote, and he is not getting a plurality.

Rubio had a second place finish, and despite the narrow margin over Cruz, Marco Rubio had some great exit poll numbers. He scored highest with voters in three categories: those who are split over whether they want a candidate with experience, those who back some sort of a legal pathway to citizenship, and those that identify themselves as “late deciders” in their choice of candidate. Most importantly, Rubio still polls as the candidate most likely to defeat Hillary Clinton in the race for the White House.

With Jeb Bush out of the race, look for Marco Rubio to pick up steam going into the next primary in Nevada. Also, look for former Bush supporters, like Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, to throw their endorsement to Senator Rubio. Lastly, as we have fewer candidates on the debate stage, Trump’s deficiencies as a candidate will become more apparent. “We’re going to build a beautiful wall”, will only get you so far. Now, if we can just get Ted Cruz out….

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