So Donald Trump exceeded expectations in New Hampshire to the point that I almost immediately upgraded his possibilities. It wasn’t so much that he won, which was expected, or that he got 35% in and of itself, but that he over-performed. That adjusts everything because it means I can no longer look at Trump-friendly polls with the degree of skepticism that I had been. His support is real, and according to exit polls strikingly uniform across almost every line. In a state where immigration did not rank as an issue. He remains a Shibboleth executioner, with uncertain ramifications. While the collapse people have been waiting for since August isn’t happening, there is some evidence of potentially weakening support. How much remains to be seen. I am a lot less worried that he will get 40% than I was. Even 35% seems less likely. On the other hand, South Carolina is allegedly a state where he has an unusually good ground game. And it’s an open primary and not a caucus. I ran a bunch of numbers and if Trump gets 37% of the vote, he may have some difficulty getting the nomination outright, and I suspect he has difficulty getting the nomination from a brokered convention. The good news for Trump is that if he underperforms, there’s a decent chance he immediately rebounds in Nevada.

jeb-handIn Bushland, things are looking awfully bleak for Jeb Bush with the first real rumors that he might drop out surfacing and indications that it might be as soon as Sunday. It’s possible that this is a skewed representation, but the vibe on Twitter from the campaign is that of a deflated candidate. Which must mean that there are internals showing a much more dour picture than the public polls, which range from “terrible” to “fighting chance.”

Ben Carson looks like he might be approaching the end of his campaign sooner rather than later. Unlike Kasich and Bush, this may prove to be helpful to Trump as the “second choice” numbers are not great, but anything that helps move Trump to 40% is good for him, and this would move him without putting someone else closer to him. He doesn’t seem to gain a majority of Carson’s support, but nobody else gains more.

Who knows what exactly is going on with John Kasich, other than that some polls really like him and others don’t.

In the last installment, I said that Marco Rubio was “done” if he didn’t place in the top four in New Hampshire. That appears to have been premature as he has rebounded impressively. I had not counted on #3-5 all being within a point of one another in essentially a tie. Some are pointing at his rebound as an example of press being deferential, but I think it’s mostly earned. When you’re down, it’s easy to spiral into self-destruction and he didn’t. There is also a reason why he keeps getting a degree of credibility above what his poll numbers indicate, which is that the potential has always been there. That said, the liabilities are also. Some of the late poll movement appears to be in his direction, though other poll movement not-so-much. Which is par for the course in South Carolina polling this time around.

cruz-hugWhich leaves us with Ted Cruz, and the uncertainty surrounding him. I’m getting a pretty desperate vibe from him, and South Carolina is a state where he has to do well. Most of the polling has him where he needs to be, but some outliers suggest that he could fall behind Rubio. If that happens, it’s going to be difficult for him. The uniformly seering contempt the other candidates have for him may be dogging him, and he has run into consecutive bad news cycles as various unsavory campaign actions come to light. If he falters, the beneficiary may to be Rubio. As much as Rubio seems to be shaping up to be the Establishment candidate, indications are that there is a lot of crossover potential. Unidirectional, though, because Cruz supporters presently seem to like Rubio more than the other way around. But while Cruz has the most to lose from this particular state, he also has the most gain. If Trump’s support is softening and he can be neck-and-neck with him and Rubio a distant third, he gets the “Two man race” narrative that he needs (at least for a cycle). Unfortunately, he’s made it increasingly tough for the rest of the party to rally around him. After New Hampshire, I was really high on his chances. Right now, I’m not.

After New Hampshire, my internal odds went from roughly one-third to Rubio and Cruz and a fifth to Trump to around 40% for Trump and Cruz and 20% for “other” (including Rubio, Kasich, Jeb, and a brokered convention that either Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan would come out of, if not one of the actual candidates).

Here is the breakdown of what each candidate needs to happen:

Donald Trump
1st Place: This needs to happen. If it does, then what it does for him will be determined by the placement of the other candidates.
2nd Place: This can happen, and Nevada can supply a rebound for him to help him get back on track. It will still speak to some vulnerability, though.
3rd Place: I don’t want to say he’s done because I was wrong about Rubio, but… it’s hard to see how he comes back.
4th Place: He’s done. Dammit, he’s done. Done. Has to be. Right?
5th Place: He’s done.

Ted Cruz
1st Place: If he can eek this out, this would definitely give him a much-needed leg up on Rubio and would help set the stage for a two-person race.
2nd Place: Assuming that he’s behind Trump, this would be a good outcome for him. If Rubio doesn’t get third or he’s closer to Trump than Rubio, a really good outcome. His path to the nomination doesn’t look great, but it would more likely be said to have started in South Carolina than Iowa if it did happen.
3rd Place: South Carolina should be Cruz country, and a third placing would hurt. Nothing that he couldn’t bounce back from, but it would be tough. He’d need to do really well in Nevada because there are a lot of people looking for reasons to dismiss him. Still, though, it would be a three-person race. This might be the perfect outcome for Trump.
4th Place: He’s in trouble.
5th Place: He’s done.

Marco Rubio
1st Place: He’s in a really good position for the nomination. Naysayers will say, not without justification, that he had a lot of institutional support in South Carolina. In all likelihood, though, this will give him institutional support in a lot of primary states if it happens. It is, of course, rather unlikely to happen.
2nd Place: This, too, would give him some institutional support in other states. Assuming Cruz places third, it likely creates a three man race. Which is not great because three is hard to win from, but it gives him a fighting chance and puts Cruz in a position of weakness where a lot of people want him.
3rd Place: This is the most likely result, and wouldn’t be a bad one as long as Cruz isn’t #1. If there is distance between him and Kasich and Jeb, then he starts getting a lot more support. And if Jeb is out of the race, he stands to benefit. It likely becomes a three-person race, though he runs the risk of being perpetually third. Which after New Hampshire wouldn’t be a bad outcome. It would make him a viable candidate for 2020.
4th Place: This would mean that either Jeb or Kasich beat him. I’m again reluctant to say that he’s done, but I don’t know how he would recover. Unless it’s because of a Jeb/Kasich shocker, it would mean that the support assumed for him simply doesn’t exist, and not because of a bad debate performance.
5th Place: He’s done. DONE. I’m sure of it. Almost sure. Pretty sure.

John Kasich
1st Place: Wow. He’d be the third candidate in a three-person race or the second in a two-person race. He’d still have something to prove, but he’d be well on his way to proving it.
2nd Place: He’s likely included in a three-person or temporary four-person race. This would mean that Cruz or Rubio placed fourth, and whichever that is will be pretty vulnerable. He’d be getting a lot of money to launch a national campaign.
3rd Place: He’d likely stay in the race and hope to win over Jeb and/or Rubio supporters. Very good outcome.
4th Place: He might stick around to see if he can get some Jeb/Rubio supporters, but if it’s not obvious that he benefits he’s probably out.
5th Place: He’s done.

Jeb Bush
1st Place: I don’t even know.
2nd Place: Jeb Bush: Rubio-Slayer. This would be an amazing comeback.
3rd Place: He might knock Rubio out if this happens, assuming that Cruz is #2. If it’s not a virtual tie. If it is a virtual tie, his campaign might not survive according to some sources.
4th Place: Indications are that he will be officially done.
5th Place: Officially done.

Category: Newsroom

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4 Responses to State of the Primary: South Carolina

  1. I haven’t really been paying much attention to the races overall (other than kind of noting who won), so I don’t have any real comments to make. But I really reading these analyses.

  2. aaron david says:

    I looks like Jeb? is done.

    I am listening to psuedo cuban jazz in honor of Rubio.

  3. RTod says:

    I don’t know where you got that picture of Jeb, but it’s priceless.

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