Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks a tailgate party before an NCAA college football game between Tennessee and Georgia Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz will be the GOP nominee. Barring any earth-shattering change in the race, the cumulative effect of both Iowa and New Hampshire is that only Trump and Cruz have a path to winning enough votes in South Carolina and the SEC primaries to secure the momentum necessary to win the nomination. Thus, the two candidates most feared and detested by the party establishment will now compete for the nomination, as the political elites helplessly watch. They are out of options in terms of running an establishment candidate.
The party establishment is now confronted with two options: support Trump or pull something out of their bag of tricks to anoint a new consensus candidate.
Here are some key observations from tonight:
- Trump Wins Big: There’s no way around it. The Trump phenomenon is real. He crushed expectations and won every major demographic, according to the exit polls.
- Immigration, immigration, immigration: Once again, tonight’s election demonstrates that the elites’ conventional wisdom on immigration is completely out of touch with reality. If in the most moderate of early state primaries, the GOP electorate – which included a lot of Independents – strongly opposes open borders. Two-thirds of voters support a temporary ban on Muslim immigration. I would imagine that number is even higher if voters would have been given the choice of “a slowdown in immigration from the Middle East.” Moreover, as was the case in Iowa, Trump did well with self-described moderates, even though he is most notorious for his perceived toughness on immigration.
- The Establishment is completely stymied: The media will try to make a lot of noise about Kasich’s second place finish, but it’s completely meaningless. He spent all his money, time, and organization in this one state and came in a distant second behind Trump. Even with all the moderate voters and Independents voting in the primary (40% of the electorate), something that will not happen in any of the forthcoming early primary states, Kasich got swamped by Trump who spent less money than he did. That means that even moderate voters were more attracted to Trump’s strong message on immigration rather than Kasich’s plea for open borders. Which other state could Kasich replicate a second place finish, much less win a single early state to open a path to the nomination? All this does is further clog the establishment lane and make it difficult for a single establishment candidate to garner enough votes in the southern states to win any delegates much less win a state. Moreover, Trump has already demonstrated that he sucks up the lion’s share of moderate voters in addition to winning some conservative voters. So even if they were able to narrow down their lane to one candidate, Trump would always muddle their path.
- South Carolina is Trump vs. Cruz: In New Hampshire, evangelicals were just 23% of the electorate. In South Carolina, they will likely comprise two-thirds of the electorate. It’s also a much more conservative state. Cruz will have an excellent chance to replicate his Iowa victory. Meanwhile, Jeb and Kasich will have nowhere to go with their “momentum” from New Hampshire, and their lane will still be clogged with Rubio and half of Trump’s supporters. And to begin with, the pool of moderate voters in South Carolina is much smaller. The bottom line is that outside of a few states, Bush and Kasich have no appeal among the GOP electorate and no path with Trump in the mix. Rubio would have been their best bet to go up against Trump and Cruz but he is now severely damaged. To the extent they even register, their remaining in the race will, ironically, siphon off more votes from Trump and help Cruz consolidate the very conservative vote in the southern states.
- Voters Can’t Stand the GOP Establishment and D.C. Conservative Intelligentsia: Perception is reality in politics and voters choose various candidates for all sorts of perceived and real qualities. Whether Trump is truly the outsider who will change D.C. is something that will have to be litigated in the coming days, but the perception is that he clearly will change direction. His most notorious positions all revolve around strong support for law and order – whether it’s support for law enforcement, sovereignty, or strong borders.
- Why is Carson Running?: Carson spent an entire week blaming Cruz for not performing better in Iowa, but the former surgeon came in dead last – behind Carly Fiorina (who wasn’t even in the debate) – despite raising more money than any GOP candidate. Will the media finally start asking tough questions about his campaign or will they continue to promote him and keep him in the South Carolina debate to continue attacking Cruz?
- Cruz did well: New Hampshire is by far the most moderate of the pre-March 15 states and Cruz’s weakest link in the chain. Now take a look at the combined spending from the campaigns and Super PACs [hat tip: Stephen Hayes]:
Put another way, Jeb Bush spent 62 times more than Cruz in this moderate state and still came in slightly behind Cruz. Cruz could have gone straight to South Carolina and shored up support there but showed a willingness to compete even with a muddled field and no clear path or need to win the state. Cruz is now sitting on the most money and the best ground game in the coming states, all of which are more hospitable to him.
One other interesting point: even in Cruz’s weakest state, he tied with Kasich for first place among the 35% of voters who prioritized a candidate who “shared their values.” And more of Cruz’s voters “strongly favored” him than Kasich’s voters did their candidate.
Author: Daniel Horowitz
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.