The Republicans Move South – And the Campaign Turns Nasty

By: Guest Writer Dominic Moore

DISCLAIMER: This is going to be a long post. A lot has happened this week, and I’ve been pretty busy so I wasn’t able to write multiple posts so I’m going to attempt to cover all the highlights quickly. I decided not to talk about the death of Antonin Scalia in this article, but I am planning to write a piece devoted entirely to him in the very near future.

UNPACKING THE NEW HAMPSHIRE PRIMARY RESULTS

MEA CULPA: I was wrong. I predicted the following New Hampshire finish: 1-Trump 2-Rubio 3-Kasich 4-Bush 5-Cruz 6-Christie. I underestimated the backlash to Rubio’s debate performance, and part of that likely stemmed from my own pro-Rubio bias. I said I was more than likely to miss some of my predictions, so missing 3/8 finishing spots was somewhat expected, but still, not my best work.

THE TRUMP SHOW: Donald Trump won, and he won decisively. His 35% finish far surpassed the previous benchmark set by a populist protest candidate in New Hampshire, Pat Buchanan’s 27% finish in 1996. He also finished 19 points ahead of his closest rival. Trump is without a doubt the frontrunner for the Republican nomination right now, but don’t celebrate yet Trumpkins- he still is a long way from a majority of the vote and it remains to be seen if he will be able to coalesce the party behind him as other candidates drop out. The burden of proof for nontraditional candidates like Trump is higher than say for a candidate like Mitt Romney (who after a similar strong finish in New Hampshire was declared the inevitable nominee) because a Trump nomination would mean that everything we know about Republican primary politics no longer matters- and I for one am not ready to throw out 50 or so years of precedent.

KASICH GOT SECOND…NOW WHAT?: John Kasich’s hard work in New Hampshire finally paid off, and he finished in second with 16%. Kasich underperformed 2012 candidate Jon Huntsman (an ideologically similar candidate to Kasich who did well in similar areas and had the same top staff) slightly, which does not bode well for Kasich’s further performance. He doesn’t really have a path forward for another strong performance until Michigan on March 8 and Ohio on March 15. Even then, there’s no guarantee he will do well, as Super Tuesday signifies the real beginning of powerful TV ad campaigns, and as of now Kasich doesn’t have the funds to really compete. He got second, but is facing the same predicament Huntsman faced in 2012: where does he go next?

CRUZING TOWARD SOUTH CAROLINA: Cruz got a solid third place, which honestly was as good of a finish he could have hoped for. He matched Mike Huckabee’s performance in 2008 and did slightly better than Santorum did in 2012. New Hampshire isn’t really a good state for an evangelical conservative like Cruz, so he got a strong finish and is ready to move on to South Carolina.

MASTER VS. APPRENTICE: Bush capitalized on Rubio’s post-debate deflation and managed to edge him out for 4th place. Don’t write Rubio’s obituary yet, however. Bush and his super PAC have spent something like $50 million in Iowa and New Hampshire and he finished with 3 and 11 percent of the vote, respectively. That’s absolutely pathetic. For comparison, he got almost the same percentage of the vote as Rudy Giuliani did in 2008. Bush partisans acted like his New Hampshire finish was a victory because he edged out Rubio. The fact that it took a self-inflicted wound and not anything that the Bush campaign did for Bush to beat out the Florida Senator should be of major concern to Bushworld. More on this below.

BYE BYE BYE: Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina and Jim Gilmore all ended their campaigns after dismal finishes in the Granite State. Christie effectively became a plus-sized suicide bomber at his last debate. His relentless (and hypocritical, search “Telling it Like its Scripted” on YouTube) attacks succeeded bringing down Rubio but did nothing to boost his own failed candidacy. Fiorina ran an admirable conservative feminist campaign, and has definitely earned a spot on the VP/Cabinet shortlist and has opened doors for Republican women to run in the future.

SOUTH CAROLINA: ROLLING IN THE MUD

South Carolina has a long political history of dirty, ugly campaigning. In the most notorious example, John McCain’s 2000 campaign was brought down in part by rumors fueled by elements of the Bush campaign that he fathered an illegitimate black child, he was gay, his wife was a drug addict, and that he was an unstable “Manchurian candidate” after his torture in Vietnam. The Palmetto State’s politics are nasty, and this campaign so far hasn’t disappointed that legacy.

ONCE A BIRTHER, NOW A TRUTHER: The Republican debate on Saturday was nasty, vicious, and oh-so-entertaining. Trump completed his transformation from an aged, orange, rotting human into a YouTube comments section that has attained sentience. I used to think Trump lived in Manhattan. After Saturday night, it has become clear that he is in fact the chieftain of both the far-right AND the far-left fever swamps, the High Priest of Birtherism, the tinfoil-behatted Grand Wizard of 9/11 Trutherism, and the Most High Reverend of the Temple of Bush-Lied-Kids-Died. Trump lambasted Jeb(!) over W.’s presidency, blaming him for 9/11, insinuating that it was an inside job and that the Bush Administration willfully deceived the American people about the presence of WMDs in Iraq. I have predicted that Trump’s previous ludicrous statements would be the death knell of his campaign and been wrong, but after that performance, I find it hard to believe that Trump won’t start to bleed support among Republican’s disgusted with his latest conspiracy-theory-fuelled diatribe.

THE OTHER FIVE GUYS: Rubio was strong all-around. Bush brought solid attacks to bear against Trump (though it may be too-little, too-late). Rubio and Trump attacked Cruz as a liar for his campaign-trail broadsides against the Florida Senator and the New York businessman. Kasich and Carson were there.

TRUMP IN COMMAND: Even after his debate comments, Trump still leads the polls in South Carolina. It seems likely that he will win South Carolina by a decent margin on Saturday. Back to back wins in NH and SC will cement Trump as the frontrunner even more, unless the mainstream conservative candidates can unite soon and take him on.

RUBIO RISING, CRUZ COLLAPSING: In every post-debate poll so far, Rubio and Cruz have been tied. Cruz was formerly in a solid second place, but Rubio has been gaining and Cruz’s favorability rating in SC is now underwater. Cruz’s super PAC was forced to pull an anti-Rubio attack ad by major SC networks because of blatant lies, which rarely happens and is a pretty big deal. It seems that Cruz’s attacks seem to be backfiring somewhat and are now dragging him down. Rubio has bounced back from his New Hampshire defeat, and it seems that he’s recovered from that wound and is on his way back up in the polls. Cruz and Rubio seem tied right now for second place, but if I had to bet a dollar today I would bet that Rubio manages to sneak into second, or at worse finish in a very close third to Cruz.

LAST STAND OF THE BUSH DYNASTY: South Carolina saved George W. Bush’s presidential candidacy in 2000. It may finally put the nail in the coffin for Jeb(!)’s campaign in 2016. Dubya is out campaigning for Jeb now, but not even the 43rd president can put the exclamation point back in the former Florida Governor’s flagging campaign. Jeb is currently locked in a tight race for fourth with John Kasich, and the electorate is very clearly not buying what he’s selling. Jeb MUST finish above Rubio for his campaign to survive. In the likely event that he does not he just needs to take his campaign out back and shoot it. It’s done.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST…: If Kasich beats out Jeb! for fourth place, it would be more of a blow for Bush than it would be a big deal for Kasich. Unless he somehow wins South Carolina or gets third behind Trump and Cruz, Kasich really can’t win on Saturday. Ben Carson’s campaign has been essentially dead for the past two months, and a last or fifth place finish in South Carolina may finally put the stake in the heart of the zombie campaign that is Carson for America.

South Carolina is notorious for dirty politics and a vicious rumor mill that has brought down candidates from John McCain to Mike Huckabee. This is going to be a wild ride all the

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