According to the Republican establishment and their friends in the media, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign had stalled or at the very least it had plateaued prior to Tuesdays elections. Some even suggested that it was on the verge of imploding.
Selling the public on the idea that voters have grown tired of Trump’s shtick has always been easy, and even if you are growing tired of the billionaire’s antics, one can’t dispute his ability to win states.
On Tuesday night, Trump claimed victories in Mississippi and Michigan, the two biggest delegate prizes of the night. He also won Hawaii. The wins increase the number of states that he has carried to 15. Texas Senator Ted Cruz has won six states, but his campaign has yet to find a way to beat Trump in a primary outside of his home turf.
Cruz rightfully points out that he is the only candidate in the race who has actually beaten Trump in a nomination fight, but he hasn’t proved that he can consistently beat Trump in conventional primary contests. It’s surprising that Trump has been able to win states in the south that Rick Santorum won in 2012. Trump has won Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. Those are all states that a conservative like Cruz should have won.
Trump’s ability to win in Mississippi with nearly 50 percent of the vote, a state won by Santorum but split evenly between Santorum, Romney, and Gingrich in 2012, undermines Cruz’s claim that not only is he the best candidate to challenge Trump, but that he also has a pathway to wining the GOP nomination outright. Trump trounced the field in Michigan. With 90 percent of the vote in, he was leading Cruz by over 140,000 votes. His lead in Mississippi, which had a much smaller turn out, was almost 40,000 votes.
It appears that Cruz will get a win in Idaho, another low-turnout contest. Regardless of the size of the contest, wins are important, but if Cruz actually wants to challenge Trump for the nomination, he needs to do better than just notch an Idaho victory. Tuesday’s results also make it clear that the Cruz campaign’s decision to compete in Florida, a winner-take-all state, is a fool’s errand that actually could end up helping Trump secure the nomination.
It was my belief that Sen. Marco Rubio would have capitalized off of a strong third place finish in Iowa by now, but the Rubio campaign’s poor campaign strategy of believing that early wins were not important combined with a horrific debate performance before the New Hampshire primary essentially has rendered him a non-factor.
Rubio has two wins under his belt, Minnesota and Puerto Rico. Neither are victories that candidates boast about. All that said, I expect Rubio to continue to do well in the U.S. Territories of American Samoa, Guam, Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas. I imagine Rubio will also do well in Hawaii. Those contests will only garner him 55 delegates if he gets every single delegate up for grabs.
Like Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Rubio needs a significant home-state victory in Florida on March 15th. Securing all of the state’s 99 delegates will not only get him back into the nomination fight, but it will also boost the establishment effort to prevent Trump from accumulating the necessary 1237 delegates to capture the Republican nomination. Many have been calling for Rubio to vacate the race, but if you are pushing a convention strategy, you actually need him to remain in the race and win wherever he can.
As of today Rubio has 151 delegates. If he can secure wins in Hawaii on Tuesday and Guam and Virgin Islands on Wednesday, he just might have enough momentum to win pull off a big Florida win, and all of a sudden he’s sitting there with at least 297 delegates, which isn’t anything to sneeze at. In fact, that would surpass the number of delegates that Santorum racked up in 2012.
There are 2,472 total delegates to be had. Trump is racing towards 1237, the number needed to secure the nomination, and while Cruz thinks he can play to win, it’s more likely that he, Rubio, and John Kasich could get to 1237 and prevent Trump from securing the nomination outright. In a race to 1237, Trump actually trails the field by over 100 delegates – 496 to 384.
There are only 1582 delegates remaining to be had. Trump needs over 53 percent of them to capture the nomination. It’s doable, but if he’s shut out in winner take all states like Ohio and Florida, that makes getting to 1237 that much more difficult. Instead of needing 53 percent to the remaining delegates, he suddenly needs to get over 63 percent of the remaining delegates.
It’s hard to see Rubio getting to 1237 on his own, but if Cruz can’t find a way to become more competitive with Trump in states outside of the Bible belt and Trump can’t get to 1237, it’s easy to see how Rubio might be able to be successful in a convention fight. If Rubio and Kasich were somehow able to become a joint ticket, they could easily become big factors at convention, especially if they control the Ohio and Florida delegations.
For all those calling for Rubio to drop out, I don’t think they really understand how the nomination process works. We may shrug off his victory in Puerto Rico, but it gives him momentum, and if he can win the three island contests this week, suddenly he’s back in the thick of things.
Even as establishment Republicans intensified the attacks on Donald Trump over the past week to ten days, the New York billionaire continued to put up impressive wins and continue his march to the Republican nomination.
Trump posted impressive victories in Alabama, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, and Virginia. Trump also won a narrow victory in Arkansas and Vermont. Even in Texas where Texas Senator Ted Cruz won easily, Trump still garnered 27 percent of the vote.
The only real blemish on the night was in Minnesota, a caucus state, where Trump finished well behind Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who finally got his first win under his belt. In addition to winning Texas, Cruz also pulled out a win over Trump in Oklahoma.
Even though Cruz and Rubio were able to get in the win column, Tuesday night’s results did nothing to quell Trump’s dominance over the Republican field. Cruz was expected to win his home state, and his six-point victory over Trump in Oklahoma was also in friendly territory. Cruz also ran strong in Arkansas and Minnesota, but he wasn’t much of a factor is states like Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, other states that he needed to be competitive in.
Rubio’s win in Minnesota may have gotten the money off of his back, but his inability to win in states like Virginia, Arkansas, or Tennessee spell trouble for his campaign. Winning the low-turnout Minnesota caucuses isn’t a lot to hang his hat on before he goes head-to-head against Trump in his home state of Florida on March 15.
The problem for the anti-Trump crowd was on full display Tuesday night. As the frontrunner Trump runs strong everywhere. The same can’t be said of his opponents. Cruz ran strong in caucus states and southern states, but was uncompetitive in places like Vermont, Massachusetts, and Virginia.
Even more problematic for establishment Republicans is that even with all the talk about Rubio last week, he wasn’t able to post the necessary victories to slow Trump’s march to the nomination.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio may have yet to win a state in the Republican presidential nomination fight, but he scored a key win in what will probably go down as the most important primary debate of the cycle.
Much was riding on the CNN-Telemundo debate because it was positioned right before the Super Tuesday contests on March 1st. Not only are Tuesday’s contests the first time multiple states will be in play on the same day, but if Donald Trump’s pathway to the nomination is going to be stymied, it has to begin then.
As expected, all eyes were on Trump, but if the media and pundits were looking for anything, it was who else on the stage is best equipped to take Trump on one on one. In essence, last night’s debate was an audition for who should take on Trump, and Rubio nailed the part.
Not once did Rubio ever hesitate when taking on Trump directly. He swung hard at every opportunity provided to him, but more importantly, Rubio didn’t just show he could throw punches last night, he showed that he could deliver a blow with a smile on his face, a skill his counter part, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, has yet to develop.
Rubio hit Trump on his key issue in the race, illegal immigration. Earlier in the week the New York Times published an article that stated that Trump hired foreign guest workers to work on his properties instead of Americans. It was a critique that Rubio hit the frontrunner with repeatedly.
Later, when responding to Trump’s plan to build a wall on along the southern border, Rubio quipped, “If he builds the wall the way he built Trump Towers, he’ll be using illegal immigrant labor to do it.” Trump tried to dismiss it saying, “Such a cute sound bite.”
Rubio then said it was not a sound bite and encouraged people to go online and check it out. Then he added, “The second thing, about the trade war — I don’t understand, because your ties and the clothes you make are made in Mexico and in China. So you’re gonna be starting a trade war against your own ties and your own suits.”
Rubio and Trump then went back and forth, with Rubio repeatedly asking why he didn’t make them in America. It’s an argument that Jeb Bush and Ohio Governor John Kasich have tried and failed to levy against Trump in earlier debates, but on the less congested debate stage, Rubio was able to able to make it stick.
Rubio was the clear victor in the first half of the debate. It was unanimous among the reporters following along with the debate on Twitter. And before you say that Twitter is no way to gauge a debate, to understand just how well Rubio was doing, two of Cruz’s biggest backers, Glenn Beck and Bob Vander Plaats publically praised Rubio’s debate performance.
Time after time, Rubio seemed to have impeccable timing and knew exactly what to say in response to Trump. When debating foreign policy, and specifically the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in the Middle East, not only did Rubio emphatically stand firm behind Israel, but he also got the best of Trump who claimed he wanted to mediate an agreement between the two sides.
“Have you ever negotiated with terrorists,” Rubio pointedly asked Trump.” After Trump quipped that Rubio is not a negotiator, Rubio smartly responded by telling Trump that this was not some sort of real estate deal.
As for Cruz, he was overshadowed during the early stages of the debate. He missed some opportunities to engage Trump in a way that would help him in advance of the Super Tuesday contests by feeling the need to restate his positions on a particular issue instead of using his time to aggressively challenge the frontrunner.
Some may find it sad that its bad for a candidate to answer a question directly, but no reporter worth their weight is going to write an article on the eve of Super Tuesday about what Cruz said about Supreme Court Justices. He needed to be able to convey that message in a way that made it clear to viewers what it is he looks for in a potential justice but also explain why Trump should not be trusted to make a such an important decision.
Cruz proved in the debate that he is capable of prosecuting Trump on the debate stage, but he doesn’t come off as likeable when doing it. Cruz seemed focused on technicalities of the subject being debated while Rubio was able to make his point against Trump in a way that was easy to understand, and in doing so, he made it look like it never got personal.
Rubio proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that if you are looking for a candidate to go toe to toe with Trump, he’s the best equipped for the battle. It was the way in which he engaged Trump on the debate stage that made him the superior candidate to Cruz. Rubio had the look of an eager, feisty fighter who was always ready to engage. Cruz, on the other hand, was the bland prosecutor you agreed with on the substance, but never could warm up to as a person.
As for Trump, it was the first time in a debate that two candidates proved him to be an inadequate frontrunner. Nobody knocked him out on Thursday night, but it was clear that he wasn’t the winner of the debate.
With 100 percent of the results now in, Donald Trump won the Nevada Caucuses with 46 percent of the vote, nearly doubling Marco Rubio who finished in second place with 24 percent of the vote. Once again, Ted Cruz finished in third place with 21 percent. Below is some of the reaction to Trump’s win last night.
The GOP’s collective desire to look away has been a problem for months. Nearly everyone, including yours truly, believed that Trump’s candidacy would exhaust itself on its own terms. There are many reasons why that hasn’t happened. Chief among them: Too many people thought it was someone else’s job to bell the Trumpian cat. No better evidence for this can be found than the fact that of the $215 million spent by super PACs so far this cycle, only 4 percent was spent attacking Trump, according to the Washington Post.
While a queue for allotments of blame would be longer than a Great Depression breadline, the person at the head of it is Ted Cruz. For months, Cruz embraced Trump as a comrade-in-arms. This helped send the signal to talk radio hosts and various conservative activists that Trump was a healthy addition to the political conversation. Even though the two men are wildly divergent ideologically, they both found shelter under the “anti-establishment” umbrella.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz was supposed to be a different kind of conservative presidential candidate. He was supposed to be unique because not only did he have impeccable conservative credentials, but he also proved he could raise money and thus could build a national campaign that former caucus winners like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee could never accomplish.
This was the narrative of the Cruz campaign in the lead up to the Iowa Caucuses. When the Cruz campaign opened its Iowa headquarters in September, Steve Deace, a syndicated talk radio host who was deeply involved in the Cruz campaign, made a strong case as to why he was backing Cruz this time around.
It was an equally powerful and persuasive argument. And let’s be honest, as far as Iowa was concerned, it was true. Cruz dominated the field in Iowa because just winning here wasn’t good enough anymore. The Cruz campaign did an excellent job of convincing Iowa Republicans that they needed a conservative candidate who could win the nomination, not just the caucuses.
Everything was going according to plan until the results from South Carolina’s Republican primary began to come in. Cruz dominated the Iowa caucuses, where 64 percent of caucus-goers labeled themselves as evangelicals. South Carolina should have been even easier since 72 percent of voters there were evangelicals. As we saw on Saturday night, Cruz struggled. He didn’t win a single county and ultimately finished in third place.
Third place is exactly where the last winner of the Iowa caucuses, Rick Santorum, finished in South Carolina. What happened to all the advantages that Cruz was supposed to have that set him apart from those who had tried and ultimately failed before him?
Let me suggest a theory. The only thing wrong with the Cruz campaign is that its people have yet to figure out how to play nice with others. Even when Cruz was only parachuting into Iowa once a month last summer, people connected with the campaign constantly talked about how Rick Santorum or Mike Huckabee should just hang it up.
“It’s not going to happen for them again,” they would say. It’s not that any of this wasn’t true, but when dealing with individuals who may have personal connections with a candidate, you are not doing your candidate any favors by telling them the guy or gal they like sucks. It’s a conclusion they need to come to themselves.
Despite the fact that the Cruz campaign has struggled at playing well with others, it’s difficult to find much fault with the machinery and implementation of their operation. The deficiency on the Cruz campaign can be found in the candidate himself. Cruz may have built a legitimate campaign that was more capable of winning the Republican than Huckabee and Santorum built in 2008 and 2012, but he’s simply not as authentic as they were.
Huckabee had a charm and charisma about him in the 2008 race that made him a difficult match up head to head with Mitt Romney in Iowa, and later in conservative southern states against McCain. Santorum was a passionate blue-collar fighter who matched up well against Romney. Both Huckabee and Santorum had a populist message that made people feel like these candidates cared about people like them.
People rooted for Huckabee and Santorum. They may have been the underdogs in their respective races, but one would think the same dynamic should exist for Cruz since he’s running against a billionaire with a questionable record. That doesn’t seem to be the case.
The Cruz campaign at times can feel like a church revival, with the candidate himself delivering a sermon full of fire and brimstone. What’s odd is that in the debates Cruz rarely if ever steers the conversation in a direction where he advocates for a strong socially conservative policy. In the 2012 debates, Santorum always found an opening to remind people that strong families are a critical part of a strong economy. Cruz seems content with volleying back and forth on the issues of the day.
In the years that Huckabee and Santorum were candidates, there were key moments when they delivered a message that would silence a room and as the attendees contemplated what Huckabee was saying about human life or what Santorum was saying about his own family. There has been none of that with Cruz. Cruz has focused mainly on the strength of his campaign, the key political battles in which he fought, and the narrative that conservatives were coalescing behind his campaign. In essence, the Cruz campaign has always just been about Ted Cruz and nothing else.
The entire Cruz campaign was built on the narrative that he was the conservative candidate who could win the nomination, but after a big loss in South Carolina they are now forced find a new basis for the campaign. If they couldn’t beat Donald Trump by running ads that featured him supporting late-term abortions in a state like South Carolina, I’m not sure it will ever work.
Cruz was supposed to be different from Huckabee and Santorum, but as one looks at the calendar, you start to wonder if he will win eight states like Huckabee did in 2008 or 11 like Santorum in 2012. For all the talk about the campaign Cruz has built, it only highlights that the problem may just be the candidate himself.
Four years ago, I spent about ten days in South Carolina for the First in the South primary. It was fascinating getting to experience what it’s like in another early state, and it was also nice to escape Iowa’s winter weather and hang out around the ocean in Myrtle Beach or Charleston. Both cities hosted major presidential debates within the span of days back in 2012.
Heading into South Carolina, I expected it to be similar to Iowa, but you know, just a lot warmer. I had heard about all the evangelical voters there and just assumed it would be a lot like Iowa. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was an eye opening experience. Yes, there are plenty of evangelical voters there, but I think they are different from Iowa’s brand of evangelicals.
In 2012, South Carolina really ended up being a two-person race between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. If you recall, Gingrich owned both the Fox News and CNN debates. The audiences at both events made it sound more like a football game than a presidential debate. Frankly, I think South Carolina in 2012 really foreshadowed what the 2016 Republican presidential campaign has been like in many respects.
Gingrich trounced Romney by securing over 40 percent of the vote compared to Romney’s 28 percent. Rick Santorum, the just crowned winner of the Iowa Caucuses came in third with 17 percent of the vote. Gingrich carried the rural parts of the state and Greenville in the north. Romney had narrow victories in Columbia, Charleston, and in and around Hilton Head.
The 2008 results map probably gives you a better idea of the political geography of the state. Mike Huckabee is in brown and John McCain in tan. While the 2008 had a similar sized field, almost 170,000 more people voted in the South Carolina primary in 2012 than 2008. Still, as results come in it, does give you an idea of what to look for.
Sen. Marco Rubio needs to do well along the coasts and in the more densely populated areas like Columbia, Rock Hill, and Greenville. Sen. Ted Cruz needs to do well in the northern part of the state, including Rock Hill and Greenville, and he needs to be strong in the rural parts of the state. Donald Trump is the wild card, and as we saw in Iowa, he can make the county results map look like a map of a foreign country.
Trump has a similar persona as Gingrich, and with a big lead in the polls, we shouldn’t have to wait long for the networks to project him as the winner if the polls are anywhere close to being accurate. For the rest of the candidates, it’s going to be New Hampshire all over again. Look for a tight battle for the second and third spots. And as we saw in New Hampshire, coming in second place will be just as good as winning so long as your name is not Donald J. Trump.
For the third place finisher, it’s going to be a lot like the 2007 and 2011 Iowa Straw Poll. The third place finishers in those two events, Sam Brownback and Tim Pawlenty, ended their campaigns shortly there after. I’m not saying that either Cruz or Rubio are at risk of having their campaigns blow up over night, but a third place finish is going to hurt either of them in a significant way.
South Carolina is tailor-made for someone like Cruz. In fact, his style of politics fits better there than it does in Iowa, and we saw what his campaign did here in Iowa. Oh, and it’s no coincidence that Conservative Review held a convention in Greenville on Thursday night since they are in the bag for Cruz. Rubio, on the other hand, has the endorsement of Haley, U.S. Senator Tim Scott, and Congressman Trey Gowdy, all three being next generation leaders. When you have those kinds of endorsements, you should be talking about winning, not coming in second.
Trump’s fine so long as he wins. If he loses, sound the alarms. A loss would be devastating considering where he stands in the polls. John Kasich is out just to finish ahead of Jeb Bush, and if he does, that may end Bush’s candidacy. Bush simply needs to surprise, which means he’s in the same boat as Dr. Ben Carson.
It should be a fun Saturday night. I hope my meager knowledge of South Carolina is somewhat helpful. I just wish I was back in Charleston, what a great city!
On Wednesday, The FAMiLY Leader seemed to change course when it sent out a press release entitled, “Tough Questions for Donald Trump from America’s Families.” The release stated that The FAMiLY Leader had joined CitizenLink, which is comprised of 40 other state-based pro-family groups, in releasing an “open letter” to Donald Trump asking him to answer specific policy questions.
“Donald Trump has made many claims and promises to the American people that seem to contradict his record on family values and his own public behavior,” said Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of The FAMiLY LEADER. “We have signed on to this open letter to urge Mr. Trump to clarify these lingering questions many Americans need to have answered before they can vote for him in good conscience.”
CitizenLink is the political arm of Focus on the Family, and James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family has not only endorsed Sen. Cruz but also campaigned for him here in Iowa. It’s a stretch to say that the group’s current effort to question Trump doesn’t violate The FAMiLY Leader’s previous position not to favor one candidate over another. This is something that is clearly intended to help the Cruz campaign, and it fits nicely into the Cruz campaign’s current crop of TV ads attacking Trump. And the subject of these ads, I believe, is fair game.
One might look at the quoted section above and say that questioning Trump is fair game since he clearly wouldn’t fit the definition of a “good candidate” to a pro-family organization like The FAMiLY Leader. While in reality that may be true, Mr. Vander Plaats himself made it abundantly clear when endorsing Sen. Cruz that Mr. Trump fit his definition of a good candidate.
Vander Plaats told reporters that he called Mr. Trump the day before endorsing Cruz to inform him of his decision. “Mr. Trump was disappointed but still considers me a good friend, and I still consider him a good friend.” He also added, “I told Mr. Trump that he has brought a lot of value to this race. In fact, this race is totally different because of Mr. Trump. Some people may say for better or for worst, but he’s brought a lot of value to this race as well.”
TheIowaRepublican.com asked The FAMiLY Leader why it is now choosing to get involved in the presidential race or what caused the group to changes its position. “The FAMiLY LEADER has made no endorsement or anti-endorsement, but we have always been about educating voters on the pro-family issues Americans are concerned about, such as life, marriage, religious freedom, limited government and the role of the executive,” Drew Zahn, the organization’s director of communications replied.
“As a partner within a national alliance that represents pro-family Americans, we have a responsibility to ask Mr. Trump about his policy positions and his view on the role of the president. We must ensure that pro-family voters are able to hear from Mr. Trump on these issues and make an informed decision when they cast their ballots,” Zahn added.
What’s ironic about all of this is that Vander Plaats and his organization have “lingering questions” about where Trump stands on their issues in the first place.
Beyond that fact that Vander Plaats has always been quick to point out that he and Trump are personal friends, the GOP frontrunner has attended a handful of FAMiLY Leader events in recent years. Trump attended the FAMiLY Leadership Summit in July as an official presidential candidate, and he attended for the first time back in 2013. Trump has also attended private fundraising receptions for The FAMiLY Leader in conjunction with each event.
Vander Plaats has also met privately with Trump at his New York office and has been hosted by Trump at some of the real estate tycoon’s luxury hotels. Yet with all of the access that Vander Plaats has had to Mr. Trump in private or in an event setting, he never once thought to ask Trump about his abortion stance?
Vander Plaars never once found the opportunity to ask Trump about Supreme Court justices?
It never dawned on Vander Plaats that perhaps he should ask Trump what his position on gay marriage is today?
You’re telling me that Bob Vander Plaats never got around to asking Donald Trump a question on gambling but did manage to ask if he and his family could stay at Trump’s Las Vegas hotel?
Frankly it’s embarrassing that Bob Vander Plaats has signed his name to an “open letter” asking Trump to disclose where he stands on each of these issues two weeks AFTER the Iowa Caucuses. If the FAMiLY Leader was going to be the “standard bearer for Christian principles,” why didn’t they ask these questions BEFORE Iowans voted, not after the candidates have left the state?
It’s not the endorsement of Cruz that makes this press release overtly political, it’s the timing. The fact that these sorts of questions need to be asked now only proves that Vander Plaats and The FAMiLY Leader had no interest in actually vetting any of the presidential candidate on the issues. Instead, they simply enjoyed the media attention given to them as well as the ability to profit from it.
In regards to Mr. Trump, it seems like Vander Plaats was more interested in the perks that a “personal relationship” provided instead of actually vetting a candidate that is now the GOP frontrunner. It’s pretty obvious that as far Vander Plaats’ work with the FAMiLY Leader is concerned this caucus cycle, he didn’t get the job done.
Since the Iowa Caucuses, Donald Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz have been frequent sparring partners. The ferocity of their attacks, however, has escalated since the campaign moved on to South Carolina.
The Cruz campaign has highlighted Trump’s evolution on a number of issues, including the right to life, marriage, and the second amendment. Cruz has also claimed that in the past Trump has supported Hillary Clinton and has embraced Obamacare, claims that Trump takes issue with.
Before we go any further, let me just state that I don’t have a problem with the Cruz campaign’s criticisms of Trump. Not only are the ads factual, but they feature Trump stating that he doesn’t even oppose partial birth abortions, which is a clip from an interview in 1999, but more recently he has taken a position that he doesn’t oppose all federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
I don’t care who you are, if you were running the Cruz campaign, you would be running the same ads. While the beltway media has never quite understood this, it’s never been a secret that Trump is vulnerable to a strong socially conservative challenger. That’s been the case from day one, and Cruz is the best positioned to take Trump on in this way.
Now, while I don’t have a problem with Cruz’s attacks of Trump, I can only laugh when I watch Ted Cruz essentially say “liar liar pants on fire” every time someone brings up his 2013 amendment to the Gang of 8 immigration reform bill.
Cruz acts no differently than Trump when questioned about his proposal that would have allowed people who are illegally in the country to remain here permanently.
In last Saturday night’s CBS News’ Republican debate, Florida Senator Marco Rubio stated the following about Cruz.
Like clockwork, Cruz took the conversation right to granting illegal immigrants in the United States citizenship, which he has always opposed. But that’s not the point. The point is that Cruz supported letting the illegal and undocumented immigrants stay in the country permanently, which some conservatives, like Cruz’s national campaign chairman Iowa Congressman Steve King, would call amnesty. Cruz also likes to use his conservative endorsees like King and Jeff Sessions, and conservative talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin, as “get out of jail free” cards when in a tight spot in a debate. Rather than explain his position, or his change of position as the case may be, he name drops one of his endorsees and moves on without addressing the question.
So while it is certainly true that Donald Trump can’t handle the truth of his past statements on a number of issues, Cruz has yet to come to terms with his 2013 actions in which he certainly supported permanent legal status for illegal immigrants. Yet like Trump, he refuses to confront the substance of his own past.
Except for one Monmouth University poll that showed Dr. Ben Carson with a one-point lead in South Carolina back in early November, Donald Trump has led every poll in the Palmetto state since late July. Trump hasn’t just led in the polls, he’s dominated the competition.
If you average Trump’s support in all of the 23 different surveys of likely South Carolina voters that have been conducted over the past seven months, he averages a stunning 34.78 percent. Trump’s current lead over Texas Senator stands at 22 points. Trump has maintained a double-digit margin over his nearest competitor in South Carolina since mid-December.
Trump’s lead in South Carolina, combined with his big win in New Hampshire last week, would indicate that he’s in the driver’s seat for the Republican nomination. However, in Saturday night’s CBS News Republican presidential debate from South Carolina, Trump appeared to be anything but in control of the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
The previous frontrunners for the Republican nomination would have been content to sit back play it safe. How many times in the Republican debates of 2012 was Mitt Romney declared the winner of primary debate because his opponents either refused to go after him or because he was successful in brushing off their criticisms of his record or previous statements?
Trump used the ninth debate, and the first after trouncing the entire GOP field in New Hampshire, to moderate his position on foreign entanglements, Planned Parenthood funding, and he even blamed President George W. Bush for the country being attacked on September 11, 2001. Not only is the timing of all of this questionable with the March 1st SEC primary just around the corner, where one would think more conservative positions on foreign policy and social issues would be key, but the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia also puts a newfound importance on issues like abortion regulation, religious liberty, and Second Amendment rights.
The vacancy created by Justice Scalia’s unfortunate death resets the presidential race moving forward. Even if Trump is able to win South Carolina on Saturday, I still think his decision to criticize President George W. Bush on the 9-11 attacks, and more importantly his idiotic defense of Planned Parenthood funding, puts into question his judgment and temperament in a way that’s never been done before.
Trump was smart at the onset of Saturday’s debate to mention federal judges Bill Pryor and Diane Sykes as two jurists that he would consider nominating if he had the chance to do so. During the rest of the debate, however, Trump cast doubt on his ability to follow through on and actually nominate a conservative like Pryor, since the Democrats’ main objection to his previous federal nomination was because of his views on Roe v. Wade, which he called “the worst abomination in the history of constitutional law.”
Meanwhile, Cruz has used the uncertainty of the Supreme Court vacancy to point out previous things that Trump has said regarding abortion and Second Amendment rights. The Cruz campaign is out with a new TV ad called, “Supreme Trust” that closes with a statement that we cannot trust Trump on the serious issues like life, marriage, religious liberty, and the Second Amendment.
After defending Planned Parenthood in last weekend’s CBS News debate, the Cruz campaign released, “Currency,” an ad that rehashes the debate about Planned Parenthood treating the unborn like currency, and then featuring Trump saying, “Planned Parenthood serves a good function.” The Cruz campaign showed no signs of backing down after Trump held a press conference demanding that Cruz take down the ads. Infact, the Cruz campaign responded by releasing a third spot, this one called “Chance.” The lastest spot features Trump’s liberal record on partial-birth abortion, federal funding for Planned Parenthood and Hillary Clinton all in his own words. Cruz used similar ads in the lead up to the Iowa Caucuses to boost turnout of evangelicals while also peeling them away from Trump. The campaign is obviously using a similar concept in South Carolina and other southern states.
As the Republican race progresses, it’s already abundantly clear that Cruz is likely to benefit from the focus that will now be on the Supreme Court. Similarly, it is clear that Trump, will be the one candidate who the new focus on the Court will likely hurt. As is also always the case in presidential nomination fights, momentum also plays an important role, and if Trump is able to deliver another victory in South Carolina, his position as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination may be cemented, but he will not yet be a lock to win.
An awful lot will be decided when the polls close in South Carolina at 7 p.m. eastern. Just like in New Hampshire, we must wait and see if any of the Republican candidates can rise up to challenge Trump for the win, but who finishes in second and third place will be equally important.
Will Cruz, with the balance of the Supreme Court now in jeopardy, be able to consolidate support around his candidacy and be the only candidate to really challenge Trump’s lead? Or will Sen. Marco Rubio, who rebounded with a good debate performance, be able to capitalize on the endorsements of Rep. Trey Gowdy and U.S. Senator Tim Scott, two young and dynamic elected officials from key parts of South Carolina.
And while Jeb Bush and John Kasich, are considered to be long-shots at this point. Bush has the endorsement of Sen. Lindsey Graham and members of the Bush family, including former President George W. Bush, are also campaigning for him in the state. Kasich, meanwhile, has garnered ample media attention following his second place finish in New Hampshire.
South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary may not sort out who ends up being the GOP nominee, but it should help us determine who the challenger to Trump will be moving forward. If that answer for some reason is not clear on Saturday night, meaning Trump wins and not much separates the rest, Trump will continue to benefit.