Can anyone beat Donald Trump? That depends …

Trump promises to be a strong leader, but just how strong a front-runner is he? That depends on how long some other candidates stay in the race. (AP Photo / Paul Sancya)

Trump promises to be a strong leader, but just how strong a front-runner is he? That depends on how long some other candidates stay in the race. (AP Photo / Paul Sancya)

A few thoughts about how the GOP race is taking shape now that South Carolina’s results are in.

1. Donald Trump is the clear leader. But he is a weak front-runner relative to past Republican contests. In the past, by the time South Carolina voted there was almost always a candidate who’d hit 40 percent in at least one of the first three contests; the only exception was in 2008, when the best finish at this stage of the race was John McCain’s 37 percent in New Hampshire. So far in 2016, the best showing by a candidate is Trump’s 35 percent in New Hampshire. That points to a more fractured field than we’ve usually seen, even compared to past elections when the field was large.

The question to be asked now is whether Trump has hit a ceiling of around one-third of the GOP electorate. If he has, and supporters of other candidates consolidate behind alternatives to Trump, then he stands to lose as the field narrows. Indeed, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal national poll this past week showed Trump would lose handily to either Ted Cruz (56-40) or Marco Rubio (57-41) in a one-on-one match-up. What we don’t know is how quickly the race can get to two candidates. Speaking of which …

2. One big step toward a narrower field came Saturday night, when Jeb Bush did the best thing he could do at this point to stop Trump: He announced the suspension of his campaign. Bush was an accomplished, conservative governor in Florida and brought probably the biggest policy heft to this race. But that wasn’t enough, by a long shot. A distant fourth-place finish in South Carolina was the final straw for the former presumed front-runner, who spent nearly $100 million to win four delegates. Dropping out means his supporters — including his financial benefactors — can turn to other candidates. The likelihood they’ll go to Trump is smaller than tiny. But the likelihood they’ll go mostly to one other candidate isn’t much better. The effect of his dropping out will be muted unless the field shrinks further …

3. John Kasich declared the election to be a four-man race after South Carolina. But it’s unclear why he thinks he’s really still a factor. He got 1.9 percent in Iowa, 15.8 percent in New Hampshire and an estimated 7.6 percent in South Carolina. The fact that his number in New Hampshire was good enough for second is less impressive than the fact that both Cruz and Rubio have twice cleared the 20-percent threshold in a state (Iowa and South Carolina). In those two states, which are more representative of the GOP primary electorate, there was in fact a clear top tier of three candidates, and then a group of also-rans. Kasich wasn’t in that top tier either time; his claim to viability at this point is just being at the top of a second-tier muddle in New Hampshire. I’d be shocked if he were to drop out before the “SEC Primary” on March 1, but he ought to think long and hard about whether he’d be better off holding out until his home state of Ohio, winning there and seeing if that translates into anything, or trying to help one of the other candidates win the Buckeye State.

The only other candidate in the race, Ben Carson, said Saturday night he intends to fight on. I saw some speculation his resolve won’t last past Tuesday’s caucus in Nevada. If it does, it will be hard to chalk that up to anything but stubborn pride — for a man whose main appeal to voters has been his grace and humility. He ought to think about whether that’s the impression he wants to leave at the end of this campaign, because he is well past the point of having a realistic chance to win anything.

4. That leaves Cruz and Rubio. Of the two, Rubio’s path forward is far clearer.

Cruz appears to have staked his campaign in large part on two things: winning evangelicals, and winning converts from Trump. In South Carolina, he accomplished neither. Exit polls showed Trump won among evangelical or born-again Christians, with 33 percent to Cruz’s 27 percent. And with the results he’s getting, Trump obviously isn’t getting out of the race anytime soon. This was the first time in three states that Cruz’s result has been a disappointment, but it’s hard to see where Cruz will get the voters he needs to get past Trump. Maybe from Rubio, if Trump goes on the offensive against the Floridian. But that depends on whether Rubio supporters see enough of a distinction between Trump and Cruz; the ones with whom I speak in Georgia, anyway, tend not to.

Rubio’s path forward is clear, if hardly a sure thing. He needs to have Kasich and Carson join Bush in dropping out, and consolidate the so-called “establishment lane” against the other two. Then he needs Trump to push Cruz out of the race, at which point it’s a two-man race and he takes his best shot.

5. The key to all this is timing. The longer it’s a race among more than three (and really more than two) people, the better it is for Trump. The sooner the field narrows, the better the odds of the not-Trumps. It’s pretty much that simple.

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108 comments
Allen Anderson
Allen Anderson

POLITICS Southern Poverty Law Center: Republican Party Is Now A Hate Group ByJames DeVinnePosted on February 18, 2016 60.9KSHARES COMMENTS In a report released today the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) announced officially what has repeatedly been made plain to anyone who listens to the demagogic crop of Republican presidential candidates: the GOP has become the nation’s leading advocate for right-wing hate, and their rhetoric is fueling a dangerous rise in hate groups. The SPLC’s annual report on domestic extremism released today found that right-wing hate and anti-government organizations grew by 14% last year to some 1,900 individual groups. And, crucially, the SPLC identifies the divisive hate-fueled rhetoric of the Republicans as a key source of increasing right-wing extremism; while the ranks of right-wing groups grew significantly after president Obama’s election, their numbers had been on the decline in recent years until demagogic fear-mongering racists like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz seized the mainstream stage to exhort the Republican base to turn on such convenient scapegoats as Muslims and Mexicans. As SPLC President Mark Potok put it, “We have real enablers in the political mainstream who are helping the ideas of the radical right grow. We are living in an era of incredible political irresponsibility.” The examples of Republican presidential candidates giving a voice to extremist right-wing hate are legion, from Donald Trump re-tweeting a neo-Nazi claim that African-Americans were responsible for 80% of murders committed against whites to his endorsement of a cartoon showing Jewish candidate Berne Sanders being gassed to proposals for religious tests for admission to the United States. The later proposal was put forward by Jeb Bush, who, alarmingly, is a moderate in the race in that he only wants to ban Muslims rather than, say, round them up in internment camps. Indeed the current Republican nomination contest has prominence to “voices that at any other time would’ve been considered incredibly extreme,” as Potok said. And it’s not just Donald Trump. Fear-mongering Islamophobia is pervasive amongst the candidates, as is a general xenophobic intolerance of immigrants and a blatant disregard for the lives of humans who aren’t like the candidates themselves. The relationship between the Republican Party and right-wing hate groups is certainly a two-way street, so that just as the candidates encourage the rise of right-wing terror groups, the rhetoric of the extreme right is increasingly adopted by the mainstream GOP and thereby normalized, usually under the insidious banner of “fighting political correctness.” Prominent Republicans have thus come to advocate such ridiculous right-wing conspiracy theories as vaccines causing autism, global warming being a Chinese plot, Common Core being a plot of socialist indoctrination, the US Army planning to invade Texas, NAFTA being a guise for the merging of the United States with Canada and Mexico, President Obama being a foreign Muslim, sustainable development being a plot to eliminate golf courses, the UN planning to take over American territory, and Planned Parenthood being a cartel that harvests and sells baby’s organs. The list literally goes on and on and on, and as loony as these right-wing conspiracies are it is little surprise that they have been eagerly adopted by a Republican Party for whom truth seems no longer to exist for any practical purpose. And if that is the case, why not pander to the very lowest and basest of human emotions: fear and hatred. And, far from a theoretical danger, the rise of right-wing extremist groups that Republicans are facilitating is in fact a grave threat to Americans. 2015 was the deadliest year for domestic terrorism since the Oklahoma City bombing, with at least 52 Americans falling victim. Though you wouldn’t know it from the media and politicians’ incessant fear-mongering focus on radical Islam, 86% of Americans killed by terrorists since 9/11 were the victims of right-wing terror. Right-wing terrorists have killed over 350 Americans since 9/11, while Islamic terrorists have killed 89. The SPLC also warns that the threat of right-wing extremism is even greater than the numbers suggest, with many radical rightists – like Charleston church shooter Dylan Roof – finding inspiration on the internet in the manner of homegrown Islamic jihadis. Indeed such would-be terrorists may not even need to look to the internet, but merely to the racist bile that spews out of the mouths of Republicans at every debate and campaign rally. As Potok delicately put it, “an enormous number of real radical hatred has been absorbed into the political mainstream.”

Dorrie K. Dorsey
Dorrie K. Dorsey

Well my income and savings has doubled since Obama has been in office!

Shirley Cooper
Shirley Cooper

PRESIDENT OBAMA is the PRESIDENT. Get over haters.

Kathy Thurmond
Kathy Thurmond

Clinton and trump are not the same Clinton got in trouble for doing what most men do now how many things has trump got in trouble for an were they worse

Mike Morton
Mike Morton

And you think Clinton is still "flat broke"? LOL

Austin Breland
Austin Breland

Neal Geiman but yet he was overwhelming elected for a second term!

redneckbluedog
redneckbluedog

Trump's problem is that he has tiny, tiny hands...This is why he can't seem to have an American wife.....Trump's wife, Melania, who may be only more intelligent than Sarah Palin, would be the first "first lady" who is not American-born......


Is this really "making America great again".....


"Make America Great Again" by importing Eastern European women to breed and marry.....

Seems like a fairly liberal immigration plan...!!!

lvg
lvg

Kevin McCarthy, GOP leader in the house said only GOP candidate left who is well qualified to be president is Kasich. Oh my!

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

@lvg

Sure is nice that Real Americans have choices other than a felonious, incompetent hag and a socialist.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

Thanks, AJC, for opening this up to Facebook comments. The quality of the posts is sooooooooo much higher!

Maria Dayley
Maria Dayley

I personally volunteer to beat him senseless!

ATLSports
ATLSports

I've either read or heard this same analysis about the field having to narrow to beat Trump about 30 times now.  And about how Trump has a ceiling.    

TomGaff
TomGaff

And you think Obama wasn't?

lvg
lvg

Robo boy vs. Trump= there should be a lot of in depth policy discussions and substantive debate with those two like who can throw the most dirt at Hillary and Obama and who can promise to deprive immigrants of the most basic human rights,

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

Even if this quickly turns into a two man race (Trump vs. the non-Trump candidate), Trump still has the advantage. Rubio does have the best shot to beat Trump but you think most Cruz supporters will go to Trump which would give him the boast he needs. 


Trump the republican nominee, the Democrats dream has come true.

Neal Geiman
Neal Geiman

Just like Obama should have never been. \U0001f633

Neal Geiman
Neal Geiman

And your vote doesn't matter. Winner in SC. Bye.

patriotdog
patriotdog

Well stated, Kyle. The RNC best get Kasich, Carson, Rubio and Cruz into a room....or all but Cruz anyway, and decide who will stay and who will go. Logic says Kasich and Carson drop out,

Rubio would be the logical benefactor. Wait too long and it won't matter.

Shawn Miner
Shawn Miner

They reject every bill that will help middle class,gays, blacks,minorities and even you!!!! Don't be confused. They give corporation and rich folks tax breaks. They are selling dreams but I'm to cheap to by one!

Shawn Miner
Shawn Miner

Are y'all aware that the GOP has the house.

ByteMe
ByteMe

It comes down to who drops out first: Rubio or Cruz.  If neither, Trump wins by end of March.  If Cruz drops out, Rubio and Trump duke it out but at least Rubio has a chance if he does better than he's done when attacked face-to-face.  If Rubio drops out, Trump wins handily, because no one really likes Cruz enough to support him in the numbers he'll need.

That evangelicals think Trump is a better choice than Cruz says everything about Cruz and what evangelicals think about this race.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

The establishments sudden love affair with former Tea Party man Rubio is telling, in that, they seem to realize that they have so poisoned their own well, that there are no electable establishment candidates remaining.  So now their mission is buy a candidate by adorning Rubio with their endorsements, favors, bias, and donors.   After he is bought, paid for, and elected, the favors will be called in to serve the owners of the establishment and the voters lose again, as usual.

Gretta Cunningham
Gretta Cunningham

Ugly Trump he's the devil the good book talks about!!!! Roaming the earth and grabbing everyone just like him with him!!!

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

Question of the day is who will Lindsay Grahamnesty endorse next?  He was the kiss of death for Jeb.


The kumbayah establishment crowd of politicians and media keeps crowing about winnowing the field and then Rubio will win.  My question is where do they think Cruz is going.  He has more delegates than Rubio and has done as well with the voters as Rubio.  Cruz and Trump combined garnered 55% of the vote in SC yesterday, so assuming Rubio got all those votes of the laggards he is at 45%.  Cruz and Rubio could beat Trump, but one of them would have to do the decent thing and agree to step aside.  I don't see either being that big of a person.


Unfortunately it seems we are stuck with Trump.  After he blows through the SEC primary, and he is leading in every one of the states, the race is over.  The voters have decided that Trump with all his foolishness, lack of experience, lack of policies, and rude operating manner is the only one who will change the floundering status quo.  It seems the voters are willing to do just about anything to retire the bipartisan Hillary McRyan Rove Peloschumer Bush cabal that runs Washington for their owners.  

JKToole
JKToole

@RafeHollister If you think Trump can defeat Clinton in a general election, even with all her faults and baggage, you are high on glue.

Kathy Thurmond
Kathy Thurmond

Like I said if you are not rich be careful who you vote for because this man don't give a dam about anyone he will have you in a shelter starving

WardinConyers
WardinConyers

Okay, fine. But do you think Hillary cares any more than him?  Trump card: she's the proven liar.  

EyeWonder
EyeWonder

I've long said - if cons want a legitimate shot at the WH this fall, Pretty Boy Marcobot McStooge is the guy.

Kit Wong
Kit Wong

I like Rubio the most but I am also ok with Trump. America will be destroyed by Bernie Sanders because of socialism and communism. You won't get $15 per hour because you won't have a job under Bernie Sanders.

Here's_to_Blue
Here's_to_Blue

Kyle, considering some of the name-calling comments from Facebook users, looks like you may need to start moderating your blog again.