With Donald Trump’s victory in the South Carolina primary, many GOP pundits are beating the drums for other candidates to drop out of the race under the theory that a two- or three-person race would be the end of Trump’s presidential campaign. But Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Ben Carson might need more than everyone else’s dropping out in order to beat Trump in the primaries. They’ll have to present their own affirmative visions and, probably, address some of the populist concerns that have elevated Trump.
It doesn’t seem quite clear that winnowing the field will necessarily spell doom for Trump’s insurgent candidacy. If Kasich and Carson dropped out, there’s a good chance that at least a some of their support would go to Trump; Kasich polls well with self-identified “moderates,” a group favorable to Trump, and many of Carson’s supporters back him because, like Trump, he stands outside the standard political system. Some of Rubio’s supporters might back Trump if he dropped out, and, since Cruz has also made much of outsider themes, it is likely that a portion of his supporters could go to Trump if the Texas senator exited the race.
EDITORIAL: The Fight Goes On
If any non-Trump hopes to become the Republican nominee in 2016, he might very well be disappointed if he thinks all he has to do is be the last non-Trump standing. Primary campaigns usually aren’t won by default; especially if the nominee hopes to win in November, he or she usually has to make a strong, affirmative case on behalf of his or her candidacy.
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What might be most important is the offering of specifics. Vague declarations will probably not prove enough to stop Trump’s rise. Many voters have such mistrust of conventional politics that they have shifted to Trump as a radical change agent. In order to counter Trump, his rivals will need to explain concretely how their policies can address economic stagnation and widespread sociopolitical alienation.Trump made an early and bold play for populist energies, and Cruz — the only candidate to beat Trump in a primary so far — has somewhat followed suit. But a more fully developed effort in that direction could help these candidates displace the Donald. In South Carolina exit polls, Trump scored a huge lead among the third of the electorate that wanted a candidate who brought “needed change.” Trump’s rivals might want to think about how they can make a case that they, too, can bring wanted change.
You don’t defeat a change agent by ignoring his appeal; you face head-on the forces driving that change and try to channel those energies. Time will tell which of Trump’s rivals is most successful in that enterprise.
— Fred Bauer is a writer from New England. He blogs at A Certain Enthusiasm, and his work has been featured in numerous publications.