No Collapse: Donald Trump Dominates South Carolina
Donald Trump took home his second straight primary victory Saturday night, easily trouncing the Republican competition and sending his arch rival to the showers. Trump secured at least 34% of the vote in South Carolina, more than 10 points ahead of his closest rivals. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz brought up second and third respectively, locked in a virtual tie. But the biggest news of the night might have been the end of the Jeb Bush campaign; the once-inevitable candidate announced that he was dropping out after nabbing only 8% of the vote.
For the last week, the pundit class has been predicting (again) that the Trump Train was rolling to a stop after a poor debate performance last weekend. Trump was booed loudly in the debate, though many – including Trump himself – found that indicative of how gratuitously the RNC had stuffed the crowd with establishment donors. While late-deciding voters swayed heavily towards Cruz and Rubio, Trump’s long-term base remained intact.
With Bush out of the race, and John Kasich probably soon to follow, the question now becomes: What happens to those voters? If we assume they go to Rubio, he could become the frontrunner in short order. In a large, fractured field, Trump has managed to nab two big victories on the strength of his outsider coalition. If the race shrinks to three in the coming weeks, however, the dynamics will change.
At the same time, things may not play out quite as the establishment hopes. You have to wonder why anyone would still be wasting their vote on a Kasich or a Bush. After Rubio proved that he was the only mainstream candidate with a shot, why didn’t those voters pull the lever for him? If they haven’t switched already, there may be something specific about Rubio that they don’t like. Those voters could easily go over to Cruz. They could, even, go to The Donald. So much remains to be seen.
“Let’s put this thing away and let’s make America great again,” Trump said in his victory speech.
If Trump manages to run the board and become the nominee, it will prove conclusively that the Republican Party of old is no longer viable. Trump is extraordinarily strong on illegal immigration, gun rights, and Islamic terrorism, but he has diverged significantly from long-time Republican positions on Iraq, Planned Parenthood, and gay marriage. His former positions on abortion and gun control have also concerned conservatives, though he claims to have denounced his earlier liberalism.
Trump’s success, though, may come less from socially-moderate voters and more from voters sick of Republican betrayal. What difference does the purity of the nominee matter if he’s just going to lose in a landslide to Hillary Clinton? Trump has proven that he can overcome intense levels of unfavorability in the primaries, and he may very well be able to do the same in the general election. For his hardline supporters, he is the candidate they’ve been waiting for. But even for the wary conservative voter, he could be the best chance of winning back the White House.
And in the end, that Trumps all.