The State of the Race: Rubio Wins SC Debate and Is Third in SC Polls. Now What?

CBS took a national poll of Republicans and Independents immediately after Saturday’s raucous debate in SC and the winner is….

Thirty-two percent of these debate watchers say Marco Rubio won the debate, beating out Donald Trump (24 percent) and John Kasich (19 percent), who are ranked second and third, respectively. Further down on the list are Ted Cruz (12 percent), Ben Carson (8 percent), and Jeb Bush (5 percent).

Just when many thought Jeb really flexed his muscles against Trump this time, well maybe not so much. Peggy Noonan said it was kind of weak for Jeb to keep defending his dad and mom and brother. It was like he was in high school or something and as admirable as it was, it didn’t seem to move the needle for him.

I’d say we’re down to two battles going on within our Party: Cruz vs. Trump for all the marbles and Bush vs. Rubio for the third spot to challenge all the marbles.

The subplot is fascinating. It’s the experienced wise one who mentored the mentee vs. the young whippersnapper who is out to prove that he represents the new face of the Party over the old Bush dynasty. He who wins this (if Kasich doesn’t interfere) will become the new third place winner. Third place winner, chicken dinner!

Last night was a disaster for Republicans. Think of the ads the Clinton will play with everyone calling each other liars. I resent Trump, Carson and Rubio callously calling Cruz a liar. When they can’t win an argument on the facts, they resort to name calling and obfuscation and it’s childish. I’d like to backhand them all and tell them to refute the points with facts and examples. But I digress.

CBS took a new SC poll leading up to the debate and Trump is still way ahead. It’s probably not considered a very reliable poll but might be useful for trends and it is very close to the RCP average:

The CBS News Battleground Tracker poll shows that Donald Trump keeps a large lead in South Carolina, bolstered by support from conservatives and also from evangelical voters, who make up a large share of the electorate here.

Trump 42%, Cruz 20%, Rubio 15%, Kasich 9%, Bush 6%, Carson 6%

Some key points from SC voters from the CBS poll:

  • Donald Trump keeps a large lead in South Carolina, bolstered by support from conservatives and also from evangelical voters.
  • For Trump voters, who have been relatively steadfast in their support over the last few months, the percentage who say they’ve firmly decided on Trump has increased.
  • Trump’s lead among evangelicals is up from January, and he has widened his lead among conservatives, too.
  • South Carolina Republicans describe the “establishment” as a bad thing…
  • On the metric of being “prepared” to be president, Trump and Cruz do well, and Jeb Bush and John Kasich do relatively well, but Marco Rubio trails in this regard, suggesting that last week’s debate in New Hampshire may have had an impact.

South Carolina should be a pivotal race, but will it be? My guess is no. After two races, it’s still a jump ball for 3rd, 4th and 5th place except for the two top candidates with a win a piece. It’s now a must win turtle’s race for the coveted third place.

IA –  Cruz, Trump, Rubio, Carson, Paul, Bush

NH- Trump, Kasich, Cruz, Bush, Rubio

SC-  Trump, Cruz, Bush, Rubio, Kasich (my bold prediction)

Many don’t want to call it the GOP-E lane but it is what it is. How do I know? When the donors speak, candidates listen and the donors are speaking but not donating. Headline from Politico:

GOP mega-donors frozen in frustration, Big money stops flowing as donors question its effectiveness, worry about Trump.

The bottom line is, they’ve had little to no return on their investment and aren’t willing to give more until the logjam is broken. A few have given to Kasich after their first or second choice dropped out of the race.

“Most donors are sitting tight not knowing what to do,” said one top GOP fundraiser.

Rubio was close to coalescing support from the elite donor class, the fundraiser said, until his widely panned debate performance in New Hampshire primary and subsequent fifth-place finish in the state’s primary. “If he had finished second in New Hampshire or even a really close third, it would be a three-man race between Trump, Cruz and Rubio,” said the fundraiser. “If Rubio pulls it back together and gets on a minor roll in South Carolina, I think he can relatively quickly come back. Not because there’s such a deep loyalty to him from donors, but because they are so worried and desperately want someone to step forward to take on Trump.”

Several donors expressed frustration that the establishment candidates and the super PACs supporting them spent considerable time and money attacking one another ― and not Trump ― in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

Until something changes after more elections take place, the dissenters of Citizen’s United will be happy:

GOP mega-donor John Jordan, who decided to support Rubio after Walker ― his first choice ― dropped out, predicted that one of the remaining establishment candidates would emerge from the pack on March 15, when a handful of delegate-rich states hold primaries.

So the State of the Race is down to a race of desperation for ABCOT (Anyone But Cruz or Trump- trademarked by tngal). It may be too late to change the trajectory unless SC voters make a drastic change from the polls. Strange things have happened in this cycle like Kasich coming in second in NH so who knows.

What I do know is if Rubio doesn’t come in with a strong 3rd place showing in SC, his chances are getting slimmer by the primary calendar. It’s all about delegates as he correctly argues, but at some point, he has to put a W in his column for voters and donors to believe he can be the eventual nominee.

He’s in the hunt right now but the essence of his campaign message of being the most electable in the general and the one person who can unite the Party goes by the wayside without a win soon. Rubio has a very rough road ahead and he paved it himself. He’s never charted a clear path to victory other than waiting for others to drop out so he could eventually emerge as the victor. But relying on Trump to slump is a fool’s errand.

It’s doubtful his loss in NH was due to his one bad debate performance but it is possible that the meme of him being rehearsed and robotic is stuck in the minds of voters. It’s hard to not think of Jeb! as low energy. Sometimes things just stick and they’re hard to shake, unfairly or not. Saturday night he relentlessly repeated that Cruz is a liar, yet the CBS poll said he won the debate. It seems that he joined the Trump and Carson bandwagon to ensure that Cruz’s persona is synonymous with the word liar and that too might stick. Which means we could be stuck with Trump!

This race for 3rd place may not be known for a while since it’s likely that neither Bush, Rubio or Kasich drop out of the race before March 15. Not only is it the first day allowed for winner take all but it’s also election day in Florida and Ohio making it their best chance to rack up some serious delegates if they haven’t done so already in the SEC primary.

The State of the Race will remain mostly static for the next month unless Trump is dealt a big blow in SC, Kasich comes in second again or Jeb beats Rubio. And so I dedicate this song to the race for 3rd place- enjoy! Tune in for the next State of the Race installment coming soon.