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The New Hampshire primary had me eating crow with Kasich’s second place win: I bought the conventional wisdom from the polls that Rubio was going to come in second on his way to working the 3-2-1 strategy that his campaign was pursuing to the nomination.
But the post-New Hampshire spin has largely ignored
Katich’s Kasich’s second place victory, since everyone was concentrated on the smashing Trump win and Rubio’s slide. As I expected Rubio’s, rebounded in the polling from his New Hampshire loss and seems to be in a strong third and possible second place in South Carolina.
I’ll bullet my three scenarios and then lay out probable spin based on placement for each candidate. I’ll be considering all February polls per RealClearPolitics. Sadly, we do not have an Emerson poll ready for South Carolina since they nailed Iowa and New Hampshire (relatively speaking).
My three scenarios in order of likelihood:
Scenario 1: Trump, Cruz, Rubio — We’re back to the three man race, with talk about Rubio being the most electable reaching a fever pitch. Expect the slug match between Trump and Cruz to continue while Rubio concentrates all his efforts on destroying Cruz’s candidacy before the SEC Primary.
Scenario 2: Trump, Rubio, Cruz — Strong endorsements will be cited as the key to Rubio’s comeback, and more will follow as a flood of senators, governors from less red states, and the conservative media heap flowers and establishment dollars at Rubio’s feet as the savior of the Republican Party.
Scenario 3: Cruz, Trump, Rubio — Cruz’s basking in victory is short lived as all the talk will be about Rubio’s rebound and Trump files suit against Cruz over his eligibility.
As of right now Trump is leading in all the polls, averaging 17.5 points on his nearest competitor. The highest he’s been is 22 points ahead at 42% of likely voters, the lowest is 14 points ahead at 37% of likely voters. I think we can reasonably expect him to win South Carolina and, if so, the smart money is on him winning the nomination. Expect more “unstoppable” rhetoric and rending of garments from his critics once he walks away with the victory.
If he comes in second to any other candidate but Cruz there’ll be a long fight to the nomination as I don’t see him dropping out against Carson, Rubio, Bush, or Kasich because he can open his bank accounts or simply accept donations from his supporters to try and drown his opponents in cash; what hasn’t worked from Bush might work for Trump.
If he comes in second to Cruz, I expect accusations of cheating, one heck of a “concession” speech, and news that he’ll file suit to disqualify Cruz from the nomination for not being a natural born citizen. With Justice Scalia’s, passing one has to wonder how that suit will go as Trump and Cruz would appeal all the way to the Supreme Court and the lower courts are unreliable when it comes to these things.
Cruz is coming in second in the polling average with a less than stellar 17.5 percent, with some polls showing him coming in third after Trump and Rubio, or fourth after Trump, Rubio, and Kasich. ARG, the polling firm that shows him in fourth, can probably be discounted as they also showed him in fourth in New Hampshire.
There is an outside chance Cruz win the state but keep in mind his average in the polls is much farther back than in Iowa. If Cruz wins South Carolina, he has a very good argument for being the only man who can beat Trump as he will have actually beaten Trump in two of three contests. Make no mistake, though: the anti-Cruz and anti-Trump forces who are backing the establishment lane candidates will make the point that Cruz only won in two very non-representative, conservative states that don’t look like Florida or Ohio which are the must-wins in conventional election political thinking.
If Cruz comes in second, he’ll still make the argument that he can win against Trump in the long run since he’ll have placed better than everyone else. However, there will be more calls for him to drop out as an unelectable candidate, as he’s put a lot of time and effort into South Carolina and it should be a good state for him.
If Cruz comes in third or below (especially below), he’ll have a hard time countering a narrative that his campaign is slipping away and the calls from him to drop in favor of whomever came in second will be deafening. He will probably fight through the SEC primary since he has a large campaign fund and a strongly funded Super PAC. He would have to burn a lot of money however to come through the primary with the top delegate count with a 1-3-3 placement.
Rubio had a very bad primary in New Hampshire but the polls show him rebounding in South Carolina, which isn’t that surprising in a more conservative state. In the polls, he’s averaging about 16 percent; not great but it’s much better than his lane rivals Jeb Bush (10 percent) and John Kasich (9 percent). It looks like he’ll come in third but he could pull an upset with strong support from Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy and place second. I doubt he’ll win, but — if he does — prepare for some accusations that’ll make your hair stand on end. I’m not saying his campaign would try to steal the primary by the way, just stating what would happen in that unlikely scenario.
If Rubio comes in third, he has a ticket into the Nevada caucus where he’ll hope to place second and displace his rivals by absorbing votes from Kasich and Bush. Rubio’s candidacy depends on becoming a consensus candidate, so he has to beat Bush and Kasich by convincing margins (the numbers in the current polling would do). If so, you’ll see plenty of articles echoing Mona Charen’s “Open Letter to Jeb Bush” begging everyone but Cruz and Trump to drop out and support Rubio in order to stop Trump.
If Rubio comes in second you’ll see a lot of the same coverage you got from his third place finish in Iowa: second will become the new third and there will be a lot of talk about his recovery from the New Hampshire debate to the South Carolina debate. A second place finish in South Carolina will strongly position him for Nevada. If that goes well, he should be able to collect enough money to fight through to the supposedly blue GOP states’ primaries to collect enough winner-take-all delegates through pluralities to cinch the nomination by the convention.
In the unlikely event he loses to Bush, Kasich, or both he’s got real trouble on his hands and he’ll start losing big money donors as a flash-in-the-pan candidate. I’d expect some comparisons to Fred Thompson and Rick Perry to begin which will hurt him down the pike but, like Cruz, he won’t drop out until after the SEC primary.
Bush seems to be betting the house on South Carolina after a fourth-place finish in New Hampshire. Worse, he’s betting the house on a third place win: currently he’s in fourth place in South Carolina polling per RCP’s average, though a leaked internal poll has him in third, one point ahead of Rubio.
If Bush places fourth or lower, the calls from him to drop will be more insistent than ever and I have to think he’ll drop after Nevada. The one thing that may keep him in the race is the money he and his PACs have spent: he’ll go down as a political joke if he quits before the SEC primary and that’s not an easy place to be as the “more talented” son and brother of two presidents.
If Bush places third (or, inexplicably, better) he’s in for SEC primary although everyone in the conservative media will be asking why he’s still trying to win. Expect a lot of sound and fury from the conservative media on the web and on Twitter about him “stealing” votes from Rubio. If he and Rubio really are only one point apart at then end I’d expect Trump to become the nominee as neither one will drop out.
Kasich is pulling about 10%, and as high as 14% in the ARG poll (I still don’t see him beating both Rubio and Cruz in South Carolina, but I don’t like the guy, so I’m biased) so he’s still game for the long run. Like Bush, his candidacy is based on a last-man-standing strategy.
He probably won’t drop until after Nevada if he comes in fifth, but he might based on lack of funding; somehow I don’t see him going into millions in debt in his quest to be the furthest-left candidate we’ve had for the GOP in 30 years, which is saying something with Romney and McCain being our last two nominees.
If he somehow comes in third, we’ll have to reevaluate the race especially if he beats Rubio and Bush. If he gets second, there’s a new frontrunner for the not-Trump candidate.
Does anyone see Carson doing better than he has? Hopefully, after South Carolina he goes home with dignity intact but he’s polling as low as 3 percent and as high as 7 percent in the RCP polls. I don’t see his campaign, which has been almost comically mismanaged at this point, giving him the infrastructure in the SEC primary.
Anything can happen in the famously dirty South Carolina primary however so we’ll see what occurs on Saturday.
However it goes, best of luck to your candidate!