After South Carolina, It’s a Three-Way GOP Race

From left: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Donald Trump, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
From left: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Donald Trump, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)

I shared some post-South Carolina Primary thoughts on Facebook Saturday night, but I wanted to expand on that here. This is a three-way race between Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Currently Donald Trump is in the driver’s seat.

Finally after South Carolina pollsters can finally pat themselves on the back because the polling finally reflected the primary results.

The RealClearPolitics average of South Carolina polls showed:

  1. Donald Trump – 31.8%
  2. Marco Rubio – 18.8%
  3. Ted Cruz – 18.5%
  4. Jeb Bush – 10.7%
  5. John Kasich – 9.0%
  6. Ben Carson – 6.8%

With the South Carolina Primary results, the order was right and the close race for second was correct. Trump, Cruz, Rubio and Carson all slightly out-performed their polling. Bush and Kasich under-performed. The final results:

  1. Donald Trump – 32.5%
  2. Marco Rubio – 22.5%
  3. Ted Cruz – 22.3%
  4. Jeb Bush – 7.8%
  5. John Kasich – 7.6%
  6. Ben Carson – 6.8%

You don’t get it much closer than that.

Some thoughts on the primary:

  • Those who claim that Ted Cruz underperformed haven’t been paying attention to polling. Polling consistently had Trump leading this race by a wide margin. The highest that Cruz ever polled was at 23 percent, and the most recent polling had him under 20 percent, so I’m not sure how one can say he underperformed. Did they hope to do better here? Sure, but this is hardly a surprise.
  • Rubio to his credit recovered from the disappointment in New Hampshire. The real feather in his cap is Jeb Bush suspending his campaign. Conventional wisdom would say he benefits the most from this move.
  • Seeing Trump win among self-identified evangelicals by 33 percent to Cruz’s 27 percent and Rubio’s 22 percent was disappointing, and certainly not expected. I also didn’t expect that evangelicals would make up 70 percent of the electorate, but that may have something to do with the culture in the South where the population is highly churched. Being churched doesn’t necessarily mean you live a biblical worldview however. I still struggle to see how voting for Trump reflects a biblical worldview; nobody has given me a satisfactory answer.
  • Twenty-two percent of the electorate were independents or others. An open primary favors Trump. He won that group 33 percent to Rubio’s 19 percent and Cruz’s 17 percent. I find it disturbing so many non-Republicans are weighing in on who should be the Republican nominee.
  • Cruz won among those who identified themselves as very conservative with 35 percent to Trump’s 29 percent and Rubio’s 19 percent. Trump won among those who identified as “somewhat conservative,” “moderates” and “liberals.”
  • Trump won among those who currently serve in the military or are a veteran by 35 percent to Rubio’s 23 percent and Cruz’s 21 percent. Rubio has highlighted national security as one of his primary strengths. Losing the military and vet vote to Trump has to sting as much as losing evangelicals to Trump stings for Cruz.

As we move forward…

Second or third place is not first. In South Carolina, Trump met the threshold to take all of the delegates and was the only winner. There is no consolation prize. As the field is winnowed, it is more likely that states that require a threshold to be reached before a candidate either takes all or most of the delegates will see that threshold reached.

This Saturday, you have the Nevada Caucuses with 30 delegates in play.

March 1st is Super Tuesday, which includes the SEC Primary. So you have the Alabama Primary with 50 delegates, the Alaska Caucuses with 28 delegates, the Arkansas Primary with 40 delegates, the Colorado Caucuses with 37 delegates, the Georgia Primary with 76 delegates, the Massachusetts Primary with 42 delegates, the Minnesota Caucuses with 38 delegates, the North Dakota Caucuses which are non-binding, the Oklahoma Primary with 43 delegates, the Tennessee Primary with 58 delegates, the Texas Primary with 155 delegates, the Vermont Primary with 16 delegates, the Virginia Primary with 49 delegates and the Wyoming Caucus with 29 delegates.

There are then 11 contests after that. After March 14th there are nine contests which are truly winner takes all.

My point in mentioning all of this? Right now, with states that are proportional or somewhat proportional, I think a three-way race can go forward, but by the time March 14th rolls around, the race needs to be winnowed down to a two-person race or Donald Trump wins. Rubio feels optimistic because Bush dropped out, increasing his chances on Super Tuesday. Cruz is optimistic about the SEC Primary that includes his home state of Texas. Trump, well, is Trump, and he’s leading polls in many Super Tuesday states and has already shown in a crowded field that he is a force to be reckoned with, especially in open primaries.

Kasich is banking on the Michigan Primary on March 8th. I’m not sure why Ben Carson is staying in.

Even with Kasich and Carson staying in, this race is essentially a three-way race, but Cruz and Rubio need to rack up wins against Trump to remain viable. Cruz has already shown he can beat Trump in Iowa. Rubio has yet to win a state contest.

My hope is that between now and March 14th they both call a cease fire and focus on Trump. The only way to knock Trump out of this race is force him to spend money and lose as a result.  When Cruz and Rubio attack each other, all that helps is Trump. If by March 14th they have been unable to knock Trump out, which is a tall order, then my hope is that the candidate with the least delegates will drop out in order to see Trump defeated.

In a two-person race, Trump is vulnerable, but in a three-way race with Rubio and Cruz attacking one another, Trump has the advantage. The focus needs to be on bringing the front runner down.

Shane Vander Hart is the online communications manager for American Principles Project, a frequent contributor to TruthInAmericanEducation.com, and the editor of Iowa-based CaffeinatedThoughts.com.