Next up in the State of Decay that is the GOP Primary is South Carolina on the 20th. This one is going to be what we call in the political press "a doozy." The problem is simple: Trump holds 30% or more of the vote (36%, in the HuffPo and RCP averages). Behind him is Cruz at around 20%--followed by Bush and Rubio.
Kasich, who won big in New Hampshire, is nowhere in South Carolina--meaning he has taken "momentum" off the field.
Rubio is clearly damaged. Jeb seems to be a virtual non-starter. The problem for the party as a whole is that they need to take the Cruz, Jeb, Rubo, and, erm, Kasich grouping and reduce it to one or two candidates with enough support to beat Trump.
The problem is: How. Who do you choose?
Pika-Cruz: I Choose You!Cruz is the obvious choice: he has appeal to Trump voters--but he's also a sitting Senator. Of course the reason he appeals, some, to Trump voters, is that he's hated (personally and viscerally) by the establishment for reasons that seem to have to do with him being an asshole.
As such, rather than straddling both the establishment and the outsider lanes, he kind of stands in the middle. He appeals to evangelical voters--that's how he won Iowa--and South Carolina has a lot of evangelical voters (more than Iowa)--but they're not exactly the same kind.
There's another problem: The Heresy.
The Heresy: Cruz has committed heresy on Immigration by sponsoring an immigration bill. He claims he was trying to kill it with his addendum--but going to the tape and seeing what he actually said, it's plain this isn't true. He's a heretic. The Base can't vote for him.
Ru-Ru-Rubio!!Marco Rubio is the obvious choice. Young, charismatic, and really conservative (for real). He was a Tea Party darling, he's been a "real politician" (a senator) and, you know, he's got pretty good answers for a lot of questions. The problem is that his answers are maybe too-good--or, at least, he uses the same answer too often.
The gig on Rubio is that he's a first-termer whose slick presentation is hiding the fact that he's a light-weight and not ready. He played directly into that in the last debate and while it certainly may never happen again, confirming what everyone fears about you only has to happen once. Still, it's one gaffe and it's early in the cycle. If he does well in South Carolina, he could certainly come back.
Except . . . The Heresy.
The Heresy: If Cruz backed a bill, Rubio wrote one. Worse, it was bi-partisan--the "Gang of Eight" and it was Amnesty. He's repudiated it. He has refudiated it. Doesn't matter: Rubio has committed heresy and so he's a heretic. The Base can't vote for him.
Jeb Bush is the obvious choice. A successful purple-state governor in one of the swing states that really matters (Florida is almost the whole ball-game for the GOP), he has great Latino outreach and he had the biggest fundraising hall ever.
Can't Beat The Bush!
Of course he has sucked as a candidate. He seems to lack the belly-fire and he keeps getting his lunch-money taken by Donald Trump. In a party that demands strength, he's not looking all that strong.
That's bad enough--but there's worse: He's a heretic.
The Heresy: The last name of Bush is reviled in the text of conservatism. Jeb has sinned against Common Core (well, he's sided with Common Core--which should be a total non-issue--but it isn't). He has married a Latina, which makes him suspect on the immigration heresy. He's billing himself as a "moderate." Heretical. The Base can't (and won't) vote for him.
John Kasich is liked by people across the aisle. He's a successful GOP Governor of a vital swing-state (Ohio is definitely the whole ballgame). He has run a positive campaign. There's nothing really wrong with him, exactly--but, for the GOP Base, there's also nothing "right." A Moderate's-Moderate, Kasich, despite his NH win, has no credible path to the nomination. He is polling at 2% in South Carolina and will likely be out of the race after like a 6th place finish.
Well, What About Kasich?
The problem with him isn't so much that he fails the purity test--but that he never came close to passing it in the first place. His win in New Hampshire was effectively an opportunity cost for everyone else: he took a slot Rubio needed badly and can't do anything with it.
There are two basic parts to the Trump Equilibrium where enough electoral-weight exists on one side of the lever (the establishment side) to dislodge the other (Trump)--but they cannot coalesce. The first part is personal gain: each candidate has a reason to stay in and knows that if they can out-last the others, they will get the lion's share of the not-Trump vote.
The Politics of Purity
The second, though, is Party-Purity. Rubio's Robot-Gaffe might, yes, hurt him badly--but the idea that his involvement with the Gang of Ocho makes him a non-starter is ludicrous. Jeb isn't a great candidate--but Hillary isn't exceptional either. Jeb's last-name heresy is a damaging factor beyond its pragmatic relevance. If voters don't want another Bush they may very well not want another Clinton.
Beyond that, though, they'd likely choose between the two of them on the merits rather than the last names.
The Purity issue--that a candidate must be without ideological flaw to be a front-runner--has taken a great slate of candidates (on paper) and turned them into clowns in the still-over-stuffed clown car--and getting beat up by someone who, by his lack of conservative identification, is immune to the purity attack (Trump).
A Note On Math
Princeton Election Consortium has computed the drop-dead winnowing deadlines to stop Trump. They are:
- Feb 29th: Two anti-Trump Candidates (Jeb, Rubio, or Cruz must drop)
- March 14th: One anti-Trump Candidate (the other drops).