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It’s been an exciting day of live blogging the Nevada caucuses and South Carolina primary. It’s also been a long one! We’re going to close up shop now, but you can read up on anything you missed by starting from the bottom of this page. How did Hillary Clinton win Nevada? What does Donald Trump’s South Carolina victory mean for the GOP race? We covered it all — click here to relive it from the beginning, and check back in with FiveThirtyEight tomorrow (and throughout the week) to read about what comes next.
I wouldn’t count Cruz out yet. As I spoke to Evangelical voters today in South Carolina, many said there was a split over who is the anti-Trump. And one person I spoke with, Kim Nickel, even persuaded a likely Democrat to vote for Cruz to try to stop Trump. That’s not insignificant.
I basically agree, although my inner contrarian is trying to make a case for Cruz. Here’s one: Trump seems to do worse when turnout is lower, and it’s likely to be lower on Super Tuesday than it was in South Carolina. Still, it’s one thing for Cruz to have a shot at winning some states and delegates, and another for him to have a real chance at the nomination.
I’m not saying he’s out. I’m saying it’s Trump vs. Rubio regardless of what Cruz does.
But Dave, that’s a longterm thing. I don’t think Cruz is going anywhere until at least mid March. Or at least through Super Tuesday.
Dave, what would force Cruz out?
Agree or disagree? South Carolina likely just set up an epic final for the GOP nomination: Donald Trump vs. Marco Rubio. I’d say so.
Make no mistake: Rubio is the only hope of the party actors. With Bush dropping out and Rubio coming out well ahead of Kasich, there’s no other candidate who most governors or members of Congress will get behind. Most of Cruz’s colleagues hate him, and Trump is Trump. I’d expect the flow of endorsements to continue, as it has since the beginning of the month. We’ll have to see if endorsements make a difference in the year of the outsider, of course. But keep in mind that Rubio is going to end up with around 22 percent of the vote in South Carolina when he was only at 13 percent at the beginning of the month. That is, he finished strongly.
Earlier today, I spoke with Donald Trump voter Allan Woodbury, a 53 year-old small business owner. Woodbury voted for the primary winner because, as he puts it, “I wanted the economy to get back on track.” He didn’t go to the rally yesterday in Charleston, but did go to a previous one and said that, “You get to hear a lot more from him at the rally than you do at the debates because everyone’s fighting for a soundbite on TV, arguing and everything like that. But in his rallies, he was able to come up with a lot more points that made sense to me and resonated with me.”
Today I spoke to some voters who made their choice based on which candidate best matched their ideology. Others tried to handicap the race and figure out who might win or drop out. They wanted to pick a winner. Woodbury felt he got both by voting for Trump. “I’m going to vote for whichever Republican wins at the end,” he said emphatically. “But right now, I’m voting for who I want to win. I’m hoping Trump wins, but if not, I’ll vote for Rubio or Cruz or Kasich or any of those over the Democratic Party.” Notably, he didn’t mention Bush’s name.
As I type this, Marco Rubio leads Ted Cruz for second place in South Carolina by about half a percentage point, 22.4 percent to 21.8 percent. It looks as though the remaining areas to report are slightly more favorable for Rubio than Cruz, but it’s liable to be very close.
But while we’ll be here watching the results, I’m not sure how much it matters. As I wrote at the start of the night, the margins matter more than the order of finish. The implications for Rubio and Cruz would not be materially different if they’d flipped positions. True, Rubio will get a nice talking point if he finishes in second, and he’ll get more shade thrown at him from political pundits if he finishes in third. But Republican voters and party elites have more important things to consider than whether a candidate got 22.4 percent of the vote or 21.8 percent instead.
If you want an example of how narratives based on the order of the finish don’t hold up that well, take a look at Jeb Bush, who just dropped out of the race. Because he finished in fourth place in New Hampshire, a fraction of a percentage point ahead of Rubio, there was a media narrative that Bush had “beaten expectations” despite having won just 11 percent of the vote. A lot of good that “momentum” did for Jeb.
Donald Trump is on track for a 50-delegate sweep of South Carolina, shutting out all other candidates. He probably came closest to losing the First Congressional district in the Low Country, which would have given its three delegates to someone else. But his margin in suburban Berkeley County probably preserves the shutout for him. In other news, Marco Rubio is beginning to pull away from Ted Cruz for second place, in part because of his surprisingly strong performance in Greenville County, home of many well-educated, white-collar Republicans and Bob Jones University.
I met Professor Sharon Gile as she exited a North Charleston polling place. She said she voted for Jeb Bush because, in her words, “There’s no one to vote for. He’s the lesser of the evils there. He’s not so uber-conservative that he scares me.” Gile had forgotten she registered as a Republican, and now, she says, she’s more interested in Bernie Sanders than anyone else.
A professor at Claflin University and also a debate coach, she believes she has to vote in part because she encourages her students to. “I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I try to visit as many candidates as I can,” she says, but said she didn’t think Bush would win. (He didn’t, and he dropped out earlier tonight.)
“Most of my students are not voting Republican anyway. I mostly hear comments about Trump, and they get the impression he’s a racist which I don’t disagree with to be honest. A lot of them are interested in Bernie Sanders, but they don’t know anything about him. And the ones who are interested in Clinton don’t know much about her except through her husband,” she said.
I’m in South Carolina tonight, where Trump seems to have done well with the state’s evangelical voters. The evangelical Christians I spoke to in Charleston tended to be from wealthy enclaves like Mt. Pleasant, where Trump’s populist messages may not have seemed as urgent. Rather, the evangelical voters I spoke with said that Trump’s rhetoric clashed with their beliefs, but that doesn’t seem to hold true across the state. Charleston, of course, offers only one of many perspectives in the state.
Right now, Ted Cruz leads Marco Rubio by about 200 votes in the AP count, but that doesn’t include tallies from Greenville County, where, surprisingly, Rubio leads Cruz by about 900 votes. If that lead holds, it bodes very well for Rubio.
I think we published that prediction that Bush would drop out of the race published exactly five seconds before he actually did so.
But the writing’s been on the wall for a long time, at least according to us here at FiveThirtyEight. Even before this election cycle got so … Trumpian, we had big questions about whether Jeb was too moderate to win the nomination, and how he could position himself as a superior alternative than Marco Rubio when he’s arguably neither more conservative than Rubio nor more “electable.” You can say he ran a bad campaign, but there were big, fundamental problems with Bush from the start.
Q: How likely is it that candidates like Bush and Kasich drop out? I was under the impression that they would hold on because of funding (Bush) or in hopes of a brokered convention resulting in their selection. — commenter Katie Duval
A: Jeb Bush is toast. “Establishment” candidates tend to quit the race when they 1) run out of money or 2) they really and truly have no chance at the nomination and 3) can’t claim to have momentum. Jeb has no shot at the nomination, has no momentum and while his Super PAC may have money, it’s not clear how much the campaign has. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t drop out of the race soon. Then again, it’s been a surprising election cycle.
If I’m Rubio, man alive do I wish I did better in New Hampshire. It’s not just because it would have given Rubio some more momentum, but it’s also because Rubio’s poor finish emboldened Kasich. Kasich is managing only 8 percent in South Carolina right now and won’t exit the race any time soon. Why? Because he got second place in New Hampshire. If Rubio had gotten second in New Hampshire, he would have knocked Kasich out. Instead, he has Kasich hanging on in the race earning 8 percent of non-Trump support tonight.
As I spoke about earlier, Trump has about equal support among all the traditional ideological classifications such as moderates versus conservatives. I think we get a much better idea of where voters are coming from by looking at whether voters want a candidate who has political experience or one who is outside the establishment. In New Hampshire, Trump won 62 percent of the vote among voters who wanted a candidate outside the political establishment. In South Carolina, he won 61 percent. In New Hampshire, Trump took just 6 percent among those who wanted a candidate with experience in politics. He took 4 percent of that group in South Carolina. The good news for the other Republicans is that about 50 percent of voters want an outsider, while 50 percent want an establishment figure. Once the race narrows to a few candidates, this indicates that future states will have closer results.
I pointed out some good news/bad news for Marco Rubio a few minutes ago, so let’s do the same thing with Ted Cruz. The good news: Cruz is beating Rubio widely and consistently in rural South Carolina counties (for example, he leads Rubio in Darlington County 31 percent to 12 percent), and at this point, I have to say that makes him the slight favorite to win second place. The bad news: Cruz isn’t really beating Donald Trump anywhere, so he’s on track to get totally shut out in the delegate count.
Your question presumes that Trump is the favorite, but that’s not obvious according to betting markets. As I type this, Betfair has Trump with about a 45-50 percent chance to win the nomination, 35-40 percent for Rubio and 10-15 percent for the field. That seems basically reasonable IMO, although I’m reserving my right to change my mind after seeing exactly what the final percentages are tonight and what happens over the next few days (dropouts, endorsements).
How big of a favorite is Trump to win the nomination now?
Chad, if Iowa was a great night for early Trump skeptics and New Hampshire was a terrible one, South Carolina looks about halfway in between. Trump skeptics can point out he didn’t improve on his performance from New Hampshire despite several candidates dropping out, which suggests he may indeed have a ceiling. They can also say that Marco Rubio has moved pretty clearly ahead in the “establishment lane” primary, giving Trump a major rival down the road.
Meanwhile, Trump optimists can point to the scoreboard — two wins in three states — including one where he’s going to win a lot of delegates tonight. They can ask how soon Kasich and Bush are really going to drop out. They could say their guy is likely to win a three-way race with Rubio and Cruz both still in, even if a one-on-one race might be a problem for him. So there’s something for everyone tonight.
Nate, how does tonight’s Trump win fit in with/defy your original Trump skepticism?
Beaufort, South Carolina just provided Marco Rubio with good news and bad news. The good news is that he’s beating Ted Cruz there 27 percent to 13 percent, a margin that just propelled him into second place statewide, if only by a hair. The bad news: Donald Trump is leading in Beaufort with 31 percent, meaning it’s unlikely Rubio will win the 1st congressional district and its three delegates. At this point, Trump could very well win all 50 of South Carolina’s delegates.
If the storyline coming out of tonight is that Rubio finished well in South Carolina — and especially if Bush drops out — expect the red line below to get much steeper: