Postmodern Conservative

Nobody’s Inevitable after South Carolina

First, I have to admit that my predictive powers failed me in South Carolina. I thought that Trump was finally fading a bit and that it would be a close to a three-way tie in the mode of Iowa. But when it comes to Trump, it appears that New Hampshire will prove to be the model. He won’t significantly underperform the polls, and that means he’ll have around a third of the vote locked down.

That doesn’t mean, at all, that Trump is on track to be the nominee, some say. All that has to happen is for the anti-Trump forces, who are a clear majority of the electorate, to unite. Well, that won’t happen in any simple way. And Trump did get almost all the delegates from South Carolina, after all. All in all, I still think it’s unlikely that Trump will be the nominee, but it’s not clear either that he will inevitably self-destruct or that there’s some “party organization” that can at some point effectively prioritize taking him out.

The big loser yesterday was Cruz. It’s now clear that he’s not an armed prophet, a man with a plan that can’t fail. His plan was to be take out all other candidates but Trump. Then reach a majority by being the only alternative to Trump. Today, it looks like if your sole objective is to take Trump out, you’d surely go with Rubio. That doesn’t mean that Cruz is destined to fade away any time soon. His purpose in life, after all, is not keeping Trump from becoming the Republican nominee. But he’s going to have to pivot somehow to expand his support. He didn’t win even with Evangelicals in South Carolina, and his constituency is pretty much those who brand themselves “very conservative.” Some say Cruz is so skillful that he’ll eventually put the Reagan coalition back together and win in November. Give me a bleepin’ break.

Rubio was a winner, but not a big winner. His performance was as underwhelming as Cruz’s, given that he had picked up the support of all the popular Republican elected officials in South Carolina. And having become the establishment candidate may actually hurt him. Even Henry Olsen’s version of Rubio’s path to victory doesn’t include any actual victories on March 1, with the possible exception of my Georgia. It’s hard to call a guy a favorite for the nomination who hasn’t come close to actually winning anywhere. Although I really do think Rubio is the favorite, I hope no Republican is so complacent as to believe that his allegedly inevitable victory means that they’ll soon be free of the unpleasant challenges of Trump and Cruz without having to give them another thought.

Pete is right, for next few weeks Rubio and Cruz will be going more after each other than after Trump. And the immigration thing will continue to drag Rubio down. Trump and Cruz, after all, both probably think that their best shot is to finish the campaign one-on-one against each other.

Of course, Trump might say something really crazy and his support will implode. What exactly would that be at this point? 

Kasich? He might have a good week or two yet, although he won’t be able to hug his way to being the main alternative to Trump.

Given the number of delegates Trump may well pile up, and the almost inevitable persistence of Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich, I now think a brokered convention is conceivable, although not inevitable or even likely.

Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...


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