HILTON HEAD, SOUTH CAROLINA, February 20, 2016 — The presidential race gained more clarity on Saturday as results came in from a pair of critical contests.
Democrats held the Nevada Caucus, where former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton survived a scare from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. While Clinton won 52 1/2-47 1/2%, the big winner was Nevada Senator Harry Reid. His union casino machine was able to muscle out an ugly victory for Clinton just as it saved Reid himself in 2010 from Sharron Angle. Reid is retiring this coming November.
Clinton and Sanders face off one week later in South Carolina.
Republicans had their contests in reverse order. Their Nevada Caucus is three days away. Businessman Donald Trump won the South Carolina Primary with 32% of the vote. Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Texas Senator Ted Cruz each garnered 22% of the vote for a strong second place finish.
The other three GOP candidates all finished far behind. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush ended with 8% of the vote. Ohio Governor John Kasich was behind him with 7 1/2%, and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson came in last with 7% of the vote.
The normally optimistic Carson delivered an angry speech where he denounced the corruption that is Washington politics. He vowed to stay in the race.
Kasich was the only candidate missing in action. He vowed earlier in the week that he was continuing through Super Tuesday. Kasich is skipping the Nevada Caucus, an admission that he has zero chance of winning there. The only thing keeping Kasich in the race is a fawning liberal media desperate to prop him up like they did with Jon Huntsman Jr. in 2012. Kasich is expected to be trounced in closed primaries where only Republicans can vote.
Unlike Carson and Kasich, Bush fell on his sword. Despite campaigning with his wildly popular brother and mother, Bush was never able to recover from early campaign stumbles. He officially suspended his campaign rather than risk a humiliating defeat in his home state of Florida on March 15. Bush and Rubio were fighting for the same voters, and Bush had a narrow opportunity when Rubio stumbled in New Hampshire. Rubio righted his ship, sinking the S.S. Jeb.
After the win comes the spin, but neither first place finisher should breathe easy.
Trump clearly won South Carolina, but he is benefitting from the exact reverse scenario of what normally happens to the Republican Party. In previous presidential races, the insurgent candidates split the anti-establishment vote, allowing an establishment candidate to eventually win. Many of Donald Trump’s voters are the same people who supported Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul. Trump has benefitted from a far more fractured establishment that refused to rally behind Bush. With former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Bush out and Kasich fading into irrelevance, the establishment may coalesce behind Rubio.
Trump insisted that he will get many of the votes of the lower tier candidates, but the evidence suggest otherwise.
The Bush supporters despise Trump, and the feeling is mutual. Trump will most likely gain close to 0% of their votes. They are a natural fit for Rubio.
The Kasich supporters also seem to be a much better fit for Rubio than Trump.
The best chance for Trump to gain any additional support comes from the Carson voters. Ideologically, the Carson supporters mesh very well with Cruz. Due to bad blood between Carson and Cruz stemming from the Iowa Caucus, some Carson supporters may back Trump to spite Cruz. Many of them will only support Carson.
Slightly more than two-thirds of the South Carolina electorate picked somebody other than Trump. He has not shown an ability to crack anywhere near 40%, much less 50%. He won a pair of primaries that allowed non-Republicans to vote. Closed primaries that only allow registered Republicans to vote will be the true test of Trump’s long-term viability. Trump may not have reached his ceiling, but his upside appears limited. Cruz can consolidate some of the Carson evangelicals, while the establishment will go all in on Rubio.
Every four years the insurgents claim that the establishment is dead. Ron Paul supporters still cannot believe they lost to Mitt Romney by about 60 million votes. Pat Buchanan’s peasants with pitchforks had to be reduced to less than 1% in 2000 to get them to admit defeat. Trump has far more personality than Paul and Buchanan, but Rubio and Cruz are far more ideological and charismatic than any Republican nominee since Ronald Reagan.
On the Democrat side, the race is all but rigged. The decision by the Democrat National Committee to reverse an Obama administration order and allow Super Pacs to donate to the DNC is clearly meant to aid Hillary Clinton. The entire Democrat establishment is united behind her. The Superdelegates are backing her. Sanders found out in Nevada that idealistic college students cannot compete with union muscle.
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are the insurgents. Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio are the establishment. America is more ideologically divided than ever, and Trump is not ideological. Until proven otherwise, the establishment has a much larger number of voters than the insurgents. Trump has repeatedly proven people wrong. Betting against a casino magnate is a risky proposition bet.
So is betting against the establishment.