Jeb!? What happened? Jeb Bush’s campaign for president came to its final punctuation mark before midnight of the South Carolina Primary, finishing only as high as fourth in any contest. 63% of Jeb Bush’s genome has been President of the United Stated for a total of three terms, almost as many times as it as collectively invaded Iraq. Genes and money go pretty far in politics, but Bush’s campaign may be the worst spent 150 million dollars in American political history. It goes to show just how tired Americans are of the Bush family, how much politics has changed in a decade, and what the Republican Party has come to be. The GOP isn’t engaged in a civil war initiated by Trump. It’s been being pulled in two directions, old blue blood federalism and rural whig principles, since the Great Depression. The house is divided and the halves cannot stand each other.
The big winners last Saturday were Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton. Marco because he vanquished Jeb and will now inherit many of his supporters, and Hillary because she managed to prevent disaster in another close caucus. They both addressed potentially existential questions to the candidacy, and are now in position to strike, maybe.
Rubio answered the question of whether or not he could consolidate the GOP establishment, but he still needs to figure out how to win a state. Iowa was his triumphed 3rd, New Hampshire was his RubioGlitch finish in 5th, and now South Carolina his victorious 2nd. At some point, the boy wonder needs to bring something home other than a participation trophy.
The man with a third of the votes, half of his hair, and all of our hearts is again Donald Trump. Most of South Carolina’s delegates are winner-take-all, but each congressional district additionally gets three delegates. It didn’t matter, because Trump took them all. Typically, back-to-back wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina should lead to an unstoppable snowballing of support and the GOP nomination; however, Trump is neither typical nor unstoppable. Demographics favored Trump in the early states, but that will shift toward Cruz and Rubio as we move forward through Super Tuesday. Nevada caucuses for the GOP today, and it will be the first major test of Trump’s growing support. First, it’s a caucus like Iowa where ground game matters more, and second, it’s closed to independents. Our Iowa model predicted Trump victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina, but has him finishing third in Nevada. If Trump wins, it would mean he’s actually building support going into Super Tuesday rather than simply benefiting from better demographics.
The major problem for Trump going forward is his greatest strength: a third of GOP will vote for him no matter what he says. The back half of the equation is that he’s said a lot already and two thirds of the party is extremely reluctant to vote for him. The likelihood of Trump running away with a majority of delegates is still small. Rather, a Trump nomination would require the slimmest majority of delegates, built on a plurality of the votes. If he fails to procure a majority of delegates before the convention, even if he’s in the lead by a lot, he has zero chance at the nomination. The RNC would stand at Armageddon and fight for the soul of the party. A Trump nomination would cause widespread party bolting, low republican turnout, loss of the Senate, and deep donor dissatisfaction. Elephants would be extinct outside the confederate south and the far-flung rills of Appalachia for two years.
What’s more likely is a three-way race that continues between Trump, Cruz, and Rubio until the latter can seize momentum in mid-march with the winner-take-all Florida Primary. Ted Cruz is now under performing his Iowa numbers, losing evangelicals to Trump (take a moment to think about that), and finishing third in a state he had been referring to as his firewall. Cruz’s actual firewall is Texas on Super Tuesday. A loss on home soil to a New Yorker would mean more than just the end of his Presidential run, it would be the end of his political career. Luckily, Fox News is hiring.
It appears to be the beginning of the end for Bernie Sanders. He will be blown out in South Carolina this weekend, and then lose every state south of the Mason Dixon line on Super Tuesday, which is a majority of them. Hillary Clinton, off wins in Nevada and South Carolina, will point to her lead in delegates and ask, “Where’s the revolution Bernie?” In the most firm, monotone, and semi-aggressive voice focus groups can approve of. However, it is possible that like the Hispanic vote in Nevada, African Americans will not vote as monolithically as expected. If Sanders, like Obama 8 years ago, can exit Super Tuesday in a tie in committed delegates, we’ll be here all spring.
A fascinating outcome in the Democratic Primaries now versus 8 years ago, is that Clinton’s base has fundamentally shifted. In 2008, Clinton, slightly to the left of Obama, led with Hispanics and blue-collar workers, but eventually lost to the Obama coalition of young, Black, and/or highly educated voters. Clinton has absorbed many Obamacans, but lost much of her old base to Sanders. This may mean Secretary Clinton consolidates the Democratic Party more quickly and easily than Obama did, when many Hillary supporters vowed for months to support John McCain, only to eventually come home to the Democratic Party when the economy completely tanked mid-summer. If I’m Clinton, I want Bernie in the race to the end and 10 percentage points behind in every state, building Democratic voter rolls across the country. Then, allow Bernie to have influence over the party platform and give a primetime speech at the Democratic National Convention to chants of “Feel. The. Bern.” He’s earned that.