After South Carolina, Can Anybody Stop Trump?

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Sun, Feb 21 - 7:30 pm EDT | 5 months ago by
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    It’s a question on the minds of anyone concerned about the Republican Party’s future: How do we stop the hostile takeover of lifelong leftist Donald Trump? Trump has now won decisively in two very different early states: New Hampshire and South Carolina. And while his support seems to have a ceiling of 35% of the Republican primary electorate (with those who oppose him doing so viscerally) he seems to be the beneficiary of celebrity name ID, the fact that people want a perceived “outsider,” and a crowded field.

    Donald Trump
    Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

    In South Carolina, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were nearly tied for second place, with a combined total of 44.8% support. Trump received 32.5% of the vote. And Jeb Bush, who came in fourth then proceeded to suspend his campaign, received 7.8%. This leaves many speculating as to where Bush’s support will go, and if the Republican Party can stop Trump without uniting around one alternative to him. With Ben Carson (7.2%), John Kasich (7.6%), Cruz (22.3%), and Rubio (22.5%) still in the race, is it possible to take Trump out during the March 1st Super Tuesday contest?

    Philip Bump at the The Washington Post wrote a story about where the supporters of various candidates will go as the field narrows. Granted, the survey he cites is far from scientific, but it provides a basic insight into what could happen as voters realign. This is a particularly pertinent question now that Bush has dropped out. As Bump wrote:

    “The only way that Donald Trump will not win the GOP nomination, it seems, is if the voters who support Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and John Kasich rally around Kasich or Rubio moving forward. This isn’t foolproof: Adding up Rubio, Bush and Kasich in national polling, for example, totals 30 percent, to Trump’s 34 percent. But in South Carolina it would have dropped Trump to second place, which is about as good as the Republican establishment could hope for.”

    Where will Bush/Carson voters go?
    Infographic via The Washington Post

    Bump also raises some interesting points about Cruz. While Cruz outperformed expectations in New Hampshire and Rubio underperformed, the opposite happened in South Carolina. Cruz was supposed to turn out the evangelical vote, yet Trump won every county Cruz hyped as his territory, along with the evangelical vote overall. And evangelical vote was higher in 2016 than 2012; blunting Cruz’s theory that he’d turn out the religious conservatives who failed to support Romney.

    Bump explained, “As we noted earlier this week, a race that narrows to just Trump vs. Rubio or just Trump vs. Ted Cruz is a race that Trump probably loses. But that requires Kasich and Carson and Rubio or Cruz getting out. March 15 is the Ohio primary and the Florida primary, which both Kasich and Rubio will want to hang around for — making it even less likely that Trump will suddenly start trailing a consolidated centrist candidate.”

    That being said, Cruz isn’t going anywhere, and I still think he can do well on Super Tuesday. While he came in third place in South Carolina, the total vote difference between Cruz and Rubio was only 1,091. And that may have had a lot to do with Rubio’s key endorsements in South Carolina from Governor Nikki Haley, Senator Tim Scott, and Congressman Trey Gowdy. Cruz is still in a good position to perform well throughout the rest of the south.

    But with Bush out, it’s not unreasonable to believe that the establishment wagons will start to circle around either Rubio or Kasich in a decisive fashion. There are reports that Mitt Romney plans to endorse Rubio this week, and it’s highly possible that many of Bush’s supporters, particularly those who value executive experience, will move their support and resources to Kasich, the only governor left in the race. This can’t be good news for Cruz, but it doesn’t mean he won’t be a contender.

    With Bush out, and Nevada’s caucus on Tuesday, we’ll get a sense of how the field will shake up prior to March 1st. Trump’s support clearly has its limits, but the trouble for the GOP is how split the strong, and frankly pervasive, anti-Trump vote is. Theories have been floated that the Republican base should coalesce around a Rubio/Kasich ticket, with Rubio brokering a deal with Cruz that he’ll nominate him as a Supreme Court Justice.

    On its face, this seems a bit far fetched. But at this point, anything is possible. Despite the proxy wars between Cruz and Rubio, many Republicans are eager to unite. Especially in pursuit of stopping Trump. Although no Republican who has won both New Hampshire and South Carolina has failed to get the nomination, this cycle has been stranger than fiction. What lies ahead is still anybody’s guess.

    Corie Whalen Stephens is a libertarian-conservative activist and writer based in Houston, Texas.

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